Friday, 12 February 2016

Walter Becker on Steely Dan and Circus Money...

Walter Becker: Steely Dan man sees the light
Walter Becker talks to Adam Sweeting about his adventurous new solo album and the rollicking return of the band that made him

Adam Sweeting
17 July 2008

In the Seventies, Steely Dan's founding duo, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, were musical satirists, chastising an imperfect world with irony and black humour.

Their occasional interviews resembled clues from an insoluble crossword. In lesser bands, they inspired awe and reverence, laced with fear.

But nearly 30 years after the Gaucho album brought the curtain down on Steely Dan's original era, Becker and Fagen have thawed somewhat. The new millennium has seen a rebuilt Dan releasing two albums, the triple Grammy-winner Two Against Nature and Everything Must Go.

Previously allergic to live performance, they've become a regular touring attraction, playing shows that swoop across their catalogue - from oldies such as Showbiz Kids and My Old School to Deacon Blues, Hey 19 and beyond. Armed with a rollicking four-piece horn section and the brilliant lead guitarist Jon Herington, the 21st-century Dan is scintillating to behold.

As Walter Becker explains, touring has become vastly more attractive than it was 30 years ago. "We started touring with one guy who humped all the gear," he recalls, sitting in a small dressing room at New York's Beacon Theatre during Steely Dan's recent six-night stint. "We used to try to get our gear on to airplanes as baggage and try not to pay for it, so if stuff got bumped off the plane you were f---ed. But now we have trucks and crew members, and a giant swathe of rainforest has been cut down so we can do what we're doing."

As a bonus for Dan-o-philes, Becker has completed a second solo album, Circus Money. It has little in common with his first, 11 Tracks of Whack (1994), and derives its character from Becker's fascination with Jamaican music from the Sixties and Seventies. He'd spent years amassing Jamaican recordings. At first he planned to use authentic Jamaican backing tracks and graft new instrumentation and lyrics over them, but gave up that idea when multitrack tapes proved impossible to find.

"The Jamaican tracks were the starting point, but what you end up writing may be completely different," he says. "A lot of songs on this record don't sound like Jamaican music, and a couple have dub sections and repeats and a real Jamaican combination of elements. Downtown Canon was based on a very well-known dub track that goes by various names, but all we took was the tempo and the bass rhythm: the harmonies were completely changed."

Becker has few pretensions as a vocalist (he growls like a film-noir detective), but Larry Klein, his producer and co-writer, has provided guidance. "My singing could be worse, and it probably will be in time. Singing for me means singing as loud as I can. Larry said, 'Why don't you try not singing as loud as you can?' That was helpful."

Becker's songwriting has acquired a reputation for darkness and cynicism, but in songs such as Downtown Canon or Paging Audrey he sounds nostalgic or even sentimental. Nevertheless, reviewers keep portraying him as some sort of emotional pervert.

"I've wondered about that, too," he nods. "It's like reading a recycled review of [Steely Dan's] Royal Scam. For instance, the song Door Number Two has a gentle, musing quality, but the reviewer in Rolling Stone said it was about a game show host trying to seduce a contestant. This is stated as fact. I thought, 'Wow, where did they find a guy so literal-minded he'd believe that?'?"

Becker wanted to make Circus Money with live musicians, rather than resort to the obsessive overdubbing and re-recording that plagued late-Seventies Steely Dan albums. Jazz enthusiasts Becker and Fagen were trying to create their own version of classic big bands like Duke Ellington's, but circumstances made that impossible.

"We got more and more into a manufactured recording mode," says Becker. "I had nothing to do during this incredibly tedious process, except to think about things that were wrong with it, the biggest being that nobody was playing with anybody else and there was no musical ebb and flow."

So he and Donald had a frank exchange of views? "That's right, and to some extent each of us was persuaded by the other. Part of it is about letting things be what they are, and is good better or is perfect better? To me, good is better, and perfect is the enemy of good in this case."

It's 40 years since Walter and Donald first met at college. After periods in Hawaii and Los Angeles Becker is back in New York, though he finds the city increasingly hard work. Maybe it's time for Dan! - The Musical, a kind of Jersey Boys with more complicated chords.

"Well, sure!" Walter agrees. "Maybe in a few years. If this thing is gonna be bastardised and turned out like a five-dollar ho', then I certainly want to break in on that five dollars." Spoken like a true professional.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Last night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

Ron Elderly: -
Make You Feel My Love
Just My Imagination
Need Your Love So Bad

Da Elderly: -
Love Song
On The Way Home

The Elderly Brothers: -
The Price Of Love
Crying In The Rain
He'll Have To Go
The Boxer
You Really Got A Hold On Me

After last week's madness, Wednesday night was, on balance, a bit of a let down. Full and full-ish until about 11pm, the audience thinned out considerably thereafter, but those who remained were attentive and responsive. The after-show acoustic session covered side 1 of After The Gold Rush and as much of The Beatles (White Album) as was feasible and recoverable from the memory banks.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

F. Scott Fitzgerald Interview from 1936

F Scott Fitzgerald
'One blow after another ... and finally something snapped'
This is an edited version of "The Other Side of Paradise, Scott Fitzgerald, 40, Engulfed in Despair" by Michel Mok, first published in the New York Post, September 25 1936

Michel Mok

Tuesday 18 September 2007

Long ago, when he was young, cocksure, drunk with sudden success, F Scott Fitzgerald told a newspaper man that no one should live beyond 30. That was in 1921, shortly after his first novel, This Side of Paradise, had burst into the literary heavens like a flowering Roman candle.

The poet-prophet of the post-war neurotics observed his 40th birthday yesterday in his bedroom of the Grove Park Inn here. He spent the day as he spends all his days - trying to come back from the other side of paradise, the hell of despondency in which he has writhed for the last couple of years.

He had no company except his soft spoken, Southern, maternal and indulgent nurse and this reporter. With the girl he bantered in conventional nurse-and-patient fashion. With his visitor he chatted bravely, as an actor, consumed with fear that his name will never be in lights again, discusses his next starring role. He kidded no one. There obviously was as little hope in his heart as there was sunshine in the dripping skies, covered with clouds that veiled the view of Sunset Mountain.

Physically he was suffering the aftermath of an accident eight weeks ago, when he broke his right shoulder in a dive from a 15- foot springboard. But whatever pain the fracture might still cause him, it did not account for his jittery jumping off and on to his bed, his restless pacing, his trembling hands, his twitching face with its pitiful expression of a cruelly beaten child.

Nor could it be held responsible for his frequent trips to a highboy, in a drawer of which lay a bottle. Each time he poured a drink into the measuring glass on his bedside table, he would look appealingly at the nurse and ask, "Just one ounce?"

Each time the nurse cast down her eyes without replying. Fitzgerald, for that matter, did not attempt to make his injury an excuse for his thirst.

"A series of things happened to papa," he said, with mock brightness. "So papa got depressed and started drinking a little."

What the "things" were he refused to explain.

"One blow after another," he said, "and finally something snapped."

Before coming to North Carolina, however, his visitor had learned something of Fitzgerald's recent history from friends in Baltimore, where he lived until last July.

The author's wife, Zelda, had been ill for some years. There was talk, said his friends, of an attempt at suicide on her part one evening when the couple were taking a walk in the country outside Baltimore. Mrs Fitzgerald, so the story went, threw herself on the tracks before an oncoming express train. Fitzgerald, himself in poor health, rushed after her and narrowly saved her life.

There were other difficulties. Mrs Fitzgerald finally was taken to a sanatorium near this city, and her husband soon followed her, taking a room in the rock-built Park Grove Inn, one of the largest and most famous resort hotels in America.

But the causes of Fitzgerald's breakdown are of less importance than its effects on the writer. In a piece entitled Pasting It Together, one of three autobiographical articles published in Esquire, which appeared in the March issue of that magazine, Fitzgerald described himself as "a cracked plate".

"Sometimes, though," he wrote, "the cracked plate has to be retained in the pantry, has to be kept in service as a household necessity. It can never again be warmed on the stove nor shuffled with the other plates in the dishpan; it will not be brought out for company, but it will do to hold crackers late at night or to go into the ice box under the leftovers.

"Now the standard cure for one who is sunk is to consider those in actual destitution or physical suffering - this is an all-weather beatitude for gloom in general and fairly salutory daytime advice for every one. But at three o'clock in the morning ... the cure doesn't work - and in a real dark night of the soul it is always three o'clock in the morning, day after day. At that hour the tendency is to refuse to face things as long as possible by retiring into an infantile dream - but one is continually startled out of this by various contacts with the world.

"One meets these occasions as quickly and carelessly as possible and retires once more back into the dream, hoping that things will adjust themselves by some great material or spiritual bonanza. But as the withdrawal persists there is less and less chance of the bonanza - one is not waiting for the fade-out of a single sorrow, but rather being an unwilling witness of an execution, the disintegration of one's own personality ..."

Yesterday, toward the end of a long, rambling, disjointed talk, he put it in different words, not nearly as poetic but no less moving for that reason:

"A writer like me," he said, "must have an utter confidence, an utter faith in his star. It's an almost mystical feeling, a feeling of nothingcan- happen-to-me, nothing-can-harm-me, nothing-can-touch-me.

"Thomas Wolfe has it. Ernest Hemingway has it. I once had it. But through a series of blows, many of them my own fault, something happened to that sense of immunity and I lost my grip."

In illustration, he told a story about his father.

"As a boy, my father lived in Montgomery County, Maryland. Our family has been mixed up quite a bit in American history. My greatgrandfather's brother was Francis Scott Key who wrote The Star- Spangled Banner; I was named for him. My father's aunt was Mrs Suratt, who was hanged after the assassination of Lincoln because Booth had planned the deed in her house - you remember that three men and a woman were executed.

"As a youngster of nine, my father rowed spies across the river. When he was 12 he felt that life was finished for him. As soon as he could, he went west, as far away from the scenes of the civil war as possible. He started a wicker-furniture factory in St Paul. A financial panic in the 90s struck him and he failed.

'We came back east and my father got a job as a soap salesman in Buffalo. He worked at this for some years. One afternoon - I was 10 or 11 - the phone rang and my mother answered it. I didn't understand what she said but I felt that disaster had come to us. My mother, a little while before, had given me a quarter to go swimming. I gave the money back to her. I knew something terrible had happened and I thought she could not spare the money now.

"Then I began to pray. 'Dear God,' I prayed, 'please don't let us go to the poorhouse; please don't let us go to the poorhouse.' A little while later my father came home. I had been right. He had lost his job.

"That morning he had gone out a comparatively young man, a man full of strength, full of confidence. He came home that evening, an old man, a completely broken man. He had lost his essential drive, his immaculateness of purpose. He was a failure the rest of his days."

Fitzgerald rubbed his eyes, his mouth, quickly walked up and down the room.

"Oh," he said, "I remember something else. I remember that when my father came home my mother said to me, 'Scott, say something to your father.' I didn't know what to say. I went up to him and asked, 'Father, who do you think will be the next president?' He looked out of the window. He didn't move a muscle. Then he said: 'I think Taft will.'

"My father lost his grip and I lost my grip. But now I'm trying to get back. I started by writing those pieces for Esquire. Perhaps they were a mistake. Too much de profundis. My best friend, a great American writer - he's the man I call my artistic conscience in one of the Esquire articles - wrote me a furious letter. He said I was stupid to write that gloomy personal stuff."

"What are your plans at the moment, Mr Fitzgerald? What are you working on now?"

"Oh, all sorts of things. But let's not talk about plans. When you talk about plans, you take something away from them."

Fitzgerald left the room.

"Despair, despair, despair," said the nurse. "Despair day and night. Try not to talk about his work or his future. He does work, but only very little - maybe three, four hours a week."

Soon he returned. "We must celebrate the author's birthday," he said gayly. "We must kill the fatted calf or, at any rate, cut the candled cake." He took another drink. "Much against your better judgment, my dear," he smiled at the girl.

Heeding the nurse's advice, the visitor turned the talk to the writer's early days and Fitzgerald told how This Side of Paradise came to be written.

"I wrote it when I was in the army," he said. "I was 19. I rewrote the whole book a year later. The title was changed, too. Originally, it was called, The Romantic Egotist.

"Isn't This Side of Paradise a beautiful title? I'm good at titles, you know. I've published four novels and four volumes of short stories. All my novels have good titles - The Great Gatsby, The Beautiful and Damned and Tender Is the Night. That's my latest book. I worked on it four years.

"Yes, I wrote This Side of Paradise in the army. I didn't go overseas - my army experience consisted mostly of falling in love with a girl in each city I happened to be in.

"I almost went across. They actually marched us on to a transport and then marched us right off again. Influenza epidemic or something. That was about a week before the armistice.

"We were quartered at Camp Mills, in Long Island. I sneaked out of bounds into New York - there was a girl concerned, no doubt - and I missed the train back to Camp Sheridan, Alabama, where we had been trained.

"So this is what I did. Went to the Pennsylvania station and commandeered an engine and a cab to take me to Washington to join the troops. I told the railroad people I had confidential war papers for President Wilson. Couldn't wait a minute. Couldn't be entrusted to the mails. They fell for my bluff. I'm sure it's the only time in the history of the United States army that a lieutenant has commandeered a locomotive. I caught up with the regiment in Washington. No, I wasn't punished."

"But how about This Side of Paradise?"

"That's right, I'm wandering. After we were mustered out I went to New York. Scribners turned my book down. Then I tried to get a job on a newspaper. I went to every newspaper office with the scores and lyrics of the Triangle shows of the two or three previous years under my arm. I had been one of the big boys in the Triangle Club at Princeton and I thought that would help. The office boys were not impressed."

One day, Fitzgerald ran into an advertising man who told him to stay away from the newspaper business. He helped him to get a job with the Barron Collier agency, and for some months Fitzgerald wrote slogans for street car cards.

"I remember," he said, "the hit I made with a slogan I wrote for the Muscatine Steam laundry in Muscatine, Iowa - 'We keep you clean in Muscatine.' I got a raise for that. 'It's perhaps a bit imaginative,' said the boss, 'but still it's plain that there's a future for you in this business. Pretty soon this office won't be big enough to hold you.'"

In This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald had one of his principal characters take a crack at the popular authors of the period - some of whom are popular still - in these words:

"Fifty thousand dollars a year! My God look at them, look at them - Edna Ferber, Gouverneur Morris, Fannie Hurst, Mary Roberts Rinehart - not producing among 'em one story or novel that will last 10 years. This man Cobb - I don't think he's either clever or amusing - and what's more, I don't think many people do, except the editors. He's just groggy with advertising. And - oh, Harold Bell Wright and Zane Grey, Ernest Poole and Dorothy Canfield try, but they are hindered by their absolute lack of any sense of humour."

And the lad wound up by saying, it was no wonder that such English writers as Wells, Conrad, Galsworthy, Shaw and Bennett depended on America for over half their sales. What does Fitzgerald think of the literary situation in this country today?

"It has improved a lot," he said. "The whole thing broke with Main Street. Ernest Hemingway, I think, is the greatest living writer of English. He took that place when Kipling died. Next comes Thomas Wolfe and then Faulkner and Dos Passos.

"Erskine Caldwell and a few others have come up just a bit after our generation, and they haven't done quite so well. We were products of prosperity. The best art is produced in times of riches. The men who came some years after us didn't have the chance we had."

Has he changed his mind on questions of economics? Amory Blaine, the hero of This Side of Paradise, predicted the success of the Bolshevik experiment in Russia, foresaw eventual government ownership of all industries in this country.

"Oh, but I made an awful boner," said Fitzgerald. "Do you remember I said publicity would destroy Lenin? That was a fine prophecy. He became a saint. My views? Well, in a pinch they'd still be pretty much towards the left."

Then the reporter asked him how he felt now about the jazz-mad, gin-mad generation whose feverish doings he chronicled in This Side of Paradise. How had they done? How did they stand up in the world?

"Why should I bother myself about them?" he asked. "Haven't I enough worries of my own? You know as well as I do what has happened to them. Some became brokers and threw themselves out of windows. Others became bankers and shot themselves. Still others became newspaper reporters. And a few became successful authors."

His face twitched.

"Successful authors!" he cried. "Oh, my God, successful authors!"

He stumbled over to the highboy and poured himself another drink.

Copyright the New York Post, 1936. Excerpts from the New York Post are reprinted courtesy of the New York Post.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Monday, 8 February 2016

Post-Punk in the Marvel style...

Superheroes of rock’n’roll 

Kathryn Bromwich
4 April 2015

Graphic designer by day, cartoonist by night, Butcher Billy has a soft spot for dual-identity superheroes. While growing up, the Brazilian artist was influenced by Saturday morning TV cartoons and the music on his radio. “I’m a huge fan of comics, cinema, music, games, art,” he says. “Salvador Dali, Tim Burton, David Bowie, Andy Warhol, Stanley Kubrick populate my mind all at the same time, and the weird thing is it makes total sense.” In his latest series, Post-Punk Marvels, he combines favourite musicians with superheroes who match their personality. “Musicians were my heroes when I was a kid, just like comic characters were.”

Robert Smith as Nightcrawler: “Robert is this weird and dark guy that prefers the shadows - but he is also romantic and good-hearted.”

John Lydon as Wolverine: “Lydon has an aggressive and impulsive nature. He’s hot-tempered, but he’s still the best there is at what he does.”

Ian Curtis as Spider-Man: “The Spider-Man from the 60s and 70s was actually very tragic. There was love, death and failure in those stories.”

Morrissey as the Hulk: “I’ve always seen a duality in Moz that was interesting to explore: he can be both sweet and sour.”

Mark Mothersbaugh as Iron Man: “Mark, from Devo, always strikes me as a pioneering tech-genius nerd that has lots of fun doing his own thing.”

Siouxsie Sioux as Scarlet Witch: “Siouxsie is a powerful woman who has always been kind of magical.”

Billy's own excellent website with many, many more works (including DC stuff for all you fanboys) is at

Sunday, 7 February 2016

John Irving on writing, wrestling, politics and bears...

John Irving on Donald Trump, Caitlyn Jenner – and the right way to wrestle an angry bear
At 73, John Irving has lost none of his fighting spirit. The writer and ex-wrestler lets rip at Trump, US politics, Caitlyn Jenner’s critics – and the ‘extreme patriotism’ of the Great American Novel. Then he throws our interviewer to the floor

Stephen Smith
Wednesday 3 February 2016

John Irving, much-loved novelist, Oscar-winning screenwriter, and the last Great American Author standing, hooks me in a headlock and slams his heel down on my toes. A noise in an unfamiliar register escapes me. Irving’s publicist winces and shrinks into her boutique sofa. This wasn’t on the book-tour itinerary.

Before he became rich and famous, the author of The Hotel New Hampshire and A Prayer for Owen Meany subsidised his writing career and raised his family with a second job in wrestling. He grappled and he coached. But he’s 73 now: I’ve got two decades on him, and I’ve challenged him to show me a few moves. As we feint and weave around a London hotel suite, my half-remembered research comes back to me like a terrible reproof. Irving hasn’t touched a drop of alcohol in years and has regained the fighting trim he boasted when he was still in his storied leotard.

“If I have an opponent who’s as tall as you,” he says, “I’m thinking your legs are vulnerable. You have more legs to protect.” We crunch into each other like rutting stags, or as much like rutting stags as two men of mature years are going to get when there are things like creased trousers to bear in mind. Irving’s pecs are pressed against mine. Is that his wheezing lungs I can hear through his chocolate sports coat, I wonder rather shamefully, or is it the ringing in my ears?

“I can’t do anything in this position because of your height advantage,” he says.

“Yes,” I reply, “whereas I could chest-bump you.”

“Your stance should be lower,” he grunts. Like a punch-drunk palooka, I fall for this piece of gamesmanship. No sooner have I dipped my head than it’s accelerating towards my knees, propelled by the flying anvil of Irving’s elbow.

Forty years ago, Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa was a raw contender on the streets of Philly and Irving was making a name for himself with his fourth novel, The World According to Garp. In 2016, Stallone could win an Oscar for Creed, a return to form for his long-running prizefight franchise, while Irving is still very much in the game with his 14th work of fiction, Avenue of Mysteries. There’s a touch of sentimentality about the reception given to both of these ageing warriors.

In Irving’s case, his tale of a Mexican slumdog called Juan Diego, who becomes a successful author in the US, hasn’t met with unqualified acclaim (“One holy mess,” said the Spectator). But his loyal readers love his unvarnished, warm-hearted storytelling. He has sold in excess of 12m books in 35 languages, and bagged an Oscar of his own in 2000 after adapting his bestseller The Cider House Rules into a film starring Michael Caine and Charlize Theron.

“Avenue of Mysteries,” says Irving, “is about a Mexican-American. He’s 54 but seems much older. He takes a trip to the Philippines and everything he sees there reminds him of his childhood in Mexico, which he left as a teenager and has never gone back to. But in his dreams and memories, he is more alive in the past, specifically at the age of 14.”

There are elements of magical realism in the story, as well as the lurid iconography of Latin American Catholicism. “Juan Diego is a man who has been touched by many miracles – among them religious miracles, which this novel is built around. I wanted to make the point that, while he has always been suspicious of the man-made institution of the Catholic church, he is always seeking to believe.”

One by one, Irving’s old sparring partners have been counted out: Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer and John Updike are dead, while Philip Roth has announced his retirement. Irving’s the last of the great white writers, an endangered species on the reading lists of English faculties in the US. Not that he could care less. An admirer of Britain’s 19th-century yarn-spinners such as Hardy and especially Dickens, he has no interest in being “an intellectual”. As he says: “I have a hard time seeing myself in the portrait gallery of American writers. Given how most American writers behave, and what their subject matter is, I’m not very American.”

He points out that his first book, Setting Free the Bears, was a historical novel set in Vienna under the Nazis and later the Soviets. “Most of my literary models weren’t American. I didn’t grow up on Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner.” The old grappler even launches an audacious flying squirrel at the Great American Novel. “I never wanted to write it. It always struck me as an act of patriotic extremism that anyone would care to write the Great American Novel. How about just a good one?’

Irving has been married to his second wife, Janet Turnbull, for almost 30 years. She’s also his agent. He’s the father of three sons. For a two-fisted author who makes the macho Hemingway look like a whining benchwarmer, he’s been widely praised for his sensitive handling of such subjects as abortion and sexual identity. “Forty years ago, the most sympathetic, least intemperate character in The World According to Garp was a transgender character.”

We discuss the athlete Bruce Jenner, now known as Caitlyn. “If something positive comes out of Caitlyn Jenner’s experience and exposure, that’s a good thing. Whatever your personal level of approval or disapproval, you have to admire the courage of undertaking gender reassignment surgery. That takes a self-confidence and a self-examination that few of us are capable of.” What does he think of Germaine Greer’s claim that a transgender person can’t be a real woman? “I don’t take – and never have taken – Germaine Greer seriously. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”

Irving follows US politics from his home in Canada. “My theory about why so many American voters are apathetic and don’t vote is that they just get worn out, they get tired. At precisely the moment when they should be interested, they’ve had enough. I’ve already had enough. Every election I feel this way. I mean, do I really have to be this invested in the Iowa caucuses?”

Although Republican weather-maker Donald Trump was humbled in Iowa, if he has his way, the likes of Irving’s Juan Diego would never make it to the Land of the Free, because a huge wall will be in their path. “I don’t take what Trump says seriously,” says Irving, “but I am seriously worried about the number of people who are as angry, as ignorant, as misinformed or shallowly informed as he is. I feel very badly for Mrs Merkel, who I believe has tried to do the right thing by assisting asylum-seekers. It’s tragic that people who perpetrated violence against women in Cologne have caused a backlash. This is working against the heartfelt instinct to help these people who have nowhere to go and are in peril. Are some dangerous people among them? Yes, probably – but we have responsibilities.”

Irving’s own experience of the migrant life has been much happier. Although the New Hampshire-born writer now lives in Toronto, he also has a home in Vermont – two places where he can enjoy the great outdoors. When he says that Leonardo DiCaprio’s film The Revenant includes the most authentic bear-on-man action ever committed to celluloid, he knows what he’s talking about. He has come face to terrifying face with an ornery brown bruin himself, and called upon decades of ringcraft to survive the encounter.

“The bear is almost blind but one thing he will see is your eyes,” he says, in best shiver-making, frontiersman-mode. “So you must never make direct eye contact. Avert your gaze.” He suddenly transforms into a cringing courtier and adds: “Retreat slowly from the bear and allow him gangway. Above all, don’t run. A bear will outrun a horse over a short distance. They chase and kill deer. Look at the way they’re built, with a powerful upper body, like a sprinter’s.”

Somehow you can’t imagine picking up hard-won backwoods tips like these from Julian Barnes. Nor is Irving done yet with my wrestling lesson. With footwork that wouldn’t discredit the young Michael Flatley, he tips me backwards over his cocked leg and leaves me sprawled across a couch. I haven’t put so much as a hold on him. Whatever the critics say about Irving’s latest novel, the man himself is unputdownable.

Avenue of Mysteries is published by Doubleday.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Maurice White RIP

Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White dies at age 74
White, whose band won six Grammys and sold more than 90m albums worldwide, died at home in Los Angeles on Wednesday, said his brother

Associated Press in Los Angeles
Thursday 4 February 2016

Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White, whose horn-driven band sold more than 90m albums and made hits like September,Shining Star and Boogie Wonderland, died Wednesday at his home in Los Angeles, his brother Verdine said.

White, who was 74, suffered from Parkinson’s Disease and had retreated from the public even as the band he founded kept performing.

“My brother, hero and best friend Maurice White passed away peacefully last night in his sleep,” Verdine White, also a member of the band, told the Associated Press on Thursday. “While the world has lost another great musician and legend, our family asks that our privacy is respected as we start what will be a very difficult and life changing transition in our lives. Thank you for your prayers and well wishes.”

Earth, Wind & Fire, a nine-piece band featuring the two White brothers, singer Philip Bailey and the distinctive horn section, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. The band’s most successful period started with the 1975 album That’s The Way of The World and continued through the rest of the decade. Other hits included Serpentine Fire and a cover of the Beatles’ Got to Get You Into My Life.

White publicly revealed he had Parkinson’s at the time of the band’s Hall of Fame induction, but he had shown symptoms of the neurological disease back in the 1980s. He stopped touring with the band in 1995 because of weariness from the road combined with his health problems.

White said in an interview with the Associated Press in 2000 that he wanted the band’s music to inspire instead of just entertain.

“That was the whole objective, to try to inspire young people to believe in themselves and to follow through on their ideas,” he said. “We’ve touched so many people with these songs.”

A former session drummer, White founded the band Salty Peppers in the Chicago area in the late 1960s and had some modest success in the Midwest. After relocating to Los Angeles and ditching all of the band members except Verdine, he renamed the outfit Earth, Wind & Fire after the three elements in his astrological chart.

Bailey’s bright falsetto defined many of Earth, Wind & Fire’s hits. “We experienced pure magic together,” Bailey said during the band’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, standing next to White.

The band’s early sound was jazzy, but evolved into an exuberant, horn-driven mix of jazz, funk, gospel and Big Band music. Their appeal wasn’t just on records but on stage, their concerts a whirl of dancing, fog machines, multi-colored lights and glittery costumes. Earth, Wind & Fire performed everywhere from the Super Bowl to the White House.

Maurice White also had a substantial side career producing other artists, including Barbra Streisand and Cher. In the 1970s, he co-wrote and co-produced the Emotions’ no 1 hit Best of My Love.

White was born in Memphis in 1941, the son of a doctor and grandson of a New Orleans piano player. He showed musical gifts at an early age, studying at the Chicago Conservancy. During the 1960s, he backed Muddy Waters, the Impressions and others and worked as a session drummer in Chicago.

The band performed in the movie, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and had hits with the ballad “After the Love Has Gone, All ‘n’ All, Let’s Groove and Fall in Love With Me. The band took a four-year hiatus in the 1980s and then returned, its primary success then on the road.

“We live in a negative society,” White told Newsweek at the height of the band’s success. “Most people can’t see beauty and love. I see our music as medicine.”

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Last night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

Ron Elderly: -
Make You Feel My Love
Sunny Afternoon
Can't Help Falling In Love

Da Elderly: -
Is It Only The Moonlight?
Out Of The Blue
In The Morning Light

The Elderly Brothers: -
I Saw Her Standing There
When Will I Be Loved
Then I Kissed Her
True Love Ways
All I Have To Do Is Dream

The Habit rocked last night! From start to finish the bar was rammed with punters and players. True Love Ways was dedicated to the 57th anniversary of the plane crash in which Buddy Holly et al were killed. All I Have To Do Is Dream was dedicated to Don Everly's 79th birthday. Just before the Elderly brothers finished off the evening, two chaps took the mic and struck up with a fine version of Chains; one looked remarkably like a very young Macca and the other James Dean!

The after-show acoustic jam was pure Habit mayhem - one Beatles song followed another until closing time, which prompted a rousing version of Twist And Shout. What a night!!

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Steely Dan talk Deacon Blues...

How Steely Dan Created ‘Deacon Blues’
Donald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan explain the 1977 hit ‘Deacon Blues’

Marc Myers
8 Sept 2015

As midlife-crisis songs go, Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues” ranks among the most melodic and existential. Recorded for the album “Aja” in 1977, the song details the bored existence of a ground-down suburbanite and his romantic fantasy of life as a jazz saxophonist.

Written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen in 1976, “Deacon Blues” was released in 1977 on Steely Dan’s album “Aja,” which in the fall reached No. 3 on Billboard’s album chart, where it remained for seven consecutive weeks. The song also was a hit single in early 1978.

With Steely Dan appearing in New York at the Beacon Theatre from Oct. 6-17, Mr. Fagen, Mr. Becker, guitarist Larry Carlton and saxophonists Tom Scott and Pete Christlieb recalled the writing, arranging and recording of the cult classic. Edited from interviews:

Donald Fagen:
Walter and I wrote “Deacon Blues” in Malibu, Calif., when we lived out there. Walter would come over to my place and we’d sit at the piano. I had an idea for a chorus: If a college football team like the University of Alabama could have a grandiose name like the “Crimson Tide,” the nerds and losers should be entitled to a grandiose name as well.

Walter Becker: Donald had a house that sat on top of a sand dune with a small room with a piano. From the window, you could see the Pacific in between the other houses. “Crimson Tide” didn’t mean anything to us except the exaggerated grandiosity that’s bestowed on winners. “Deacon Blues” was the equivalent for the loser in our song.

Mr. Becker:
Unlike a lot of other pop songwriting teams, we worked on both the music and lyrics together. It’s not words and music separately, but a single flow of thought. There’s a lot of riffing back and forth, trying to top each other until we’re both happy with the result. We’ve always had a similar conception and sense of humor.

Mr. Fagen:
Also, Walter and I both have jazz backgrounds, so our models are different than many pop songwriters. With “Deacon Blues,” as with many of our other songs, we conceived of the tune as more of a big-band arrangement, with different instrumental sections contributing a specific sound at different points. We developed “Deacon Blues” in layers: first came the rhythm tracks, then vocals and finally horns.

Many people have assumed the song is about a guy in the suburbs who ditches his life to become a musician. In truth, I’m not sure the guy actually achieves his dream. He might not even play the horn. It’s the fantasy life of a suburban guy from a certain subculture. Many of our songs are journalistic. But this one was more autobiographical, about our own dreams when we were growing up in different suburban communities—me in New Jersey and Walter in Westchester County.

Mr. Becker: The protagonist in “Deacon Blues” is a triple-L loser—an L-L-L Loser. It’s not so much about a guy who achieves his dream but about a broken dream of a broken man living a broken life.

Mr. Fagen: The concept of the “expanding man” that opens the song [“This is the day of the expanding man / That shape is my shade there where I used to stand”] may have been inspired by Alfred Bester’s “The Demolished Man.” Walter and I were major sci-fi fans. The guy in the song imagines himself ascending the levels of evolution, “expanding” his mind, his spiritual possibilities and his options in life.

Mr. Becker: His personal history didn’t look like much so we allowed him to explode and provided him with a map for some kind of future.

Mr. Fagen: Say a guy is living at home at his parents’ house in suburbia. One day, when he’s 31, he wakes up and decides he wants to change the way he struts his stuff.

Mr. Becker: Or he’s making a skylight for his room above the garage and when the hole is open he feels the vibes coming in and has an epiphany. Or he’s playing chess games against himself by making moves out of a book and cheating.

A mystical thing takes place and he’s suddenly aware of his surroundings and life, and starts thinking about his options. The “fine line” we use in the song [“So useless to ask me why / Throw a kiss and say goodbye / I’ll make it this time / I’m ready to cross that fine line”] is the dividing line between being a loser and winner, at least according to his own code. He’s obviously tried to cross it before without success.
Mr. Fagen: By the mid-‘70s, we were using session players in the studio. Steely Dan became just Walter and myself. We’d handpick musicians for the sound we were looking for on each song. We tended to go through quite a few musicians looking for the results we wanted.

Sound-wise, we were influenced by the jazz albums of engineer Rudy Van Gelder, the engineer who recorded many of those legendary Prestige and Blue Note albums in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Mr. Becker: The thing about Rudy’s recording technique is how he got each instrument to sound intimate, with musicians playing close to the microphones. The way he recorded, you had the continuity of lines and the fatness of tone that made solos jump out. We wanted all of our recordings to sound that way.

Larry Carlton: When I met with Donald, he gave me demos of him singing and playing “Deacon Blues.” I transcribed the chords and built an arrangement for the rhythm section that was tight but left plenty of space for other layers—like horns and background vocals that I knew they would add later.

The song’s famous opening is my guitar and Victor Feldman’s Fender Rhodes electric piano playing the exact same chords and voicings, plus drummer Bernard Purdie’s cymbal figures. To keep the song’s rythm-section arrangement from sounding stiff, I added guitar ad-libs here and there to create contrast after Donald’s vocal was in place. They were there to frame his voice.

Mr. Fagen: Once the rhythm track and my vocal were set, horns were added to give the song a dreamy, reedy sound. We brought in saxophonist Tom Scott to write the arrangement. We told him we wanted the horns to have a tight, romantic “Duke Ellington cloud” feel.

Tom Scott:
When I arrived at the Village Recorder in West Los Angeles, where Donald and Walter were recording, they played me the rhythm track. Donald said he wanted to add four reeds, two trombones and a trumpet—but not a high-note trumpet. I heard right away how I’d arrange the horns—adding 9ths and 11ths and other jazz dissonances that were implied but not there.

I had about a week and a half to write arrangements for all the songs on “Aja” where they wanted horns. For “Deacon Blues,” I used a sound that mirrored Oliver Nelson’s orchestral style. I wrote in these “rubs”—two notes close together in the middle register played by the tenor and baritone saxophones. This produces a really thick, reedy sound.

Mr. Fagen: When everything was recorded—the rhythm section, the horns and the background vocals, Walter and I sat in the studio listening back and decided we needed a sax solo, someone to speak for the main character. We liked the sound of a tenor saxophonist who played in Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show band, a cat who blew like crazy when the show went to a commercial. He had this gutsy sound, but we didn’t know who it was.

Mr. Becker:
We had our producer Gary Katz ask around and he found out it was Pete Christlieb. Pete had invented any number of cool harmonic devices that made his playing sound unique. He just sounded like a take-charge soloist, a “gunner.”

Pete Christlieb: I went over to the studio one night after the Tonight Show finished taping at 6:30 p.m. When I listened on headphones to the track Tom had arranged, there was just enough space for me to play a solo.

As I listened, I realized Donald and Walter were using jazz chord changes, not the block chords of rock. This gave me a solid base for improvisation. They just told me to play what I felt. Hey, I’m a jazz musician, that’s what I do. So I listened again and recorded my first solo. We listened back and they said it was great. I recorded a second take and that’s the one they used. I was gone in a half-hour. The next thing I know I’m hearing myself in every airport bathroom in the world.

Mr. Fagen: The song’s fade-out at the end was intentional. We used it to make the end feel like a dream fading off into the night.

Mr. Becker:
“Deacon Blues” was special for me. It’s the only time I remember mixing a record all day and, when the mix was done, feeling like I wanted to hear it over and over again. It was the comprehensive sound of the thing: the song itself, its character, the way the instruments sounded and the way Tom Scott’s tight horn arrangement fit in.

Mr. Fagen: One thing we did right on “Deacon Blues” and all of our records: We never tried to accommodate the mass market. We worked for ourselves and still do.

Monday, 1 February 2016

The Last Waltz: the lost photos of The Band, Bob Dylan, Neil Young etc...

The Last Waltz concert at Winterland November 25, 1976, was filmed by Martin Scorcese

The Band and many guest musicians performed, including Neil Young, Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison Eric Clapton Ron Wood, Ringo Starr, Dr. John  and Joni Mitchell Photo: Gary Fong, The Chronicle
Long-lost photos from legendary S.F. concert discovered amid dust

By Bill Van Niekerken
27 January 2016

The Winterland stage stands packed in anticipation of the guests joining The Band on stage for their final road performance, a classic concert, the Last Waltz, in San Francisco on Nov. 25, 1976.
Robbie Robertson during the finale at the Last Waltz show in San Francisco. Photo: Gary Fong, The Chronicle
For decades, The Chronicle’s photos from “The Last Waltz,” one of San Francisco’s greatest rock music events, were lost, thought never to be seen again.

The concert at Winterland in 1976 was to be the final concert that The Band performed on the road, and filmmaker Martin Scorsese was on hand to shoot it and produce a feature-length movie.
Members of Martin Scorsese’s film crew at the Last Waltz show. Photo: Gary Fong, The Chronicle
The evening started with a Thanksgiving dinner for the 5,000 concertgoers, with the diners entertained by Berkeley Promenade Orchestra, a 40-piece string group. Bill Graham borrowed set decorations from San Francisco Opera’s production of “La Traviata,” and he added chandeliers and a fountain in the lobby. After dinner, The Band took the stage, and as the night went on the musicians were joined by several famous friends: Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Ronnie Wood and Ringo Starr.
The Berkeley Promenade Orchestra would provide the Last Waltz’s early entertainment, with many in the audience dancing. Photo: Gary Fong, The Chronicle
It was a San Francisco concert filled with rock royalty in a starry setting, but the images disappeared among the dust of The Chronicle’s vast archive.
Ringo Starr drumming with The Band, with Robbie Robertson on guitar at the Last Waltz. Photo: Gary Fong, The Chronicle
Then, 40 years later, fortune smiled on fans on The Band.
The Last Waltz concert at Winterland November 25, 1976, was filmed by Martin Scorcese
In this photo Paul Butterfield, Neil Young and Steve Stills

The Band and many guest musicians performed, including Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison Eric Clapton Ron Wood, Ringo Starr, Dr. John  and Joni Mitchell Photo: Gary Fong, The Chronicle
Chronicle pop culture critic Peter Hartlaub and I had searched extensively for the photos and negatives but had come up empty-handed. Last week, our luck changed. We were searching through shots of a 1980 Bread and Roses show featuring Joni Mitchell playing guitar with B.B. King. Looking at the negatives as I scanned them, it became clear it was a different show.
The Band began the rock-’n’-roll portion of the event. Here Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson play. Photo: Gary Fong, The Chronicle
The first few negatives showed an indoor venue with ornate decorations. It didn’t look dilapidated enough for Winterland, but by the 10th negative I was looking at couples dancing, maybe waltzing, and I started to get excited.
The Last Waltz concert at Winterland November 25, 1976, was filmed by Martin Scorcese
In this image, Eric Clapton, Paul Butterfield, Bobby Charles and Ron Wood (Bill Graham is in the background) 
The Band and many guest musicians performed, including Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison Eric Clapton Ron Wood, Ringo Starr, Dr. John  and Joni Mitchell Photo: Gary Fong, The Chronicle
I kept scanning, and there they were: dozens of shots of the concert, taken by ace Chronicle photographer Gary Fong, showing The Band, the guest rockers and the final jam with all of the musicians on stage.
The Band with menbers Garth Hudson, Rick Danko, Robbie Robertson Richard Manuel and Levon Helm at the Last Waltz show. Photo: Gary Fong, The Chronicle
After 30 years digging through The Chronicle’s archive as a big rock ’n’ roll fan, this might be my favorite find.
The Last Waltz concert at Winterland November 25, 1976, was filmed by Martin Scorcese
Ringo Starr and Levon Helm at the drums

The Band and many guest musicians performed, including Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison Eric Clapton Ron Wood, Ringo Starr, Dr. John  and Joni Mitchell Photo: Gary Fong, The Chronicle
Bill Van Niekerken is the library director of The San Francisco Chronicle, where he has worked since 1985. In his weekly column, From the Archive, he explores the depths of The Chronicle’s vast photography archive in search of interesting historical tales related to the city by the bay.

All photos by Gary Fong

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Anti-Vietnam War Posters

Bring Us Together, 1970

Poster power: 1970s anti-Vietnam war art by California students
Following shootings of young Vietnam war protesters in 1970, University of California students produced hundreds of anti-war artworks

Kathryn Bromwich
Saturday 30 January 2016

Kent State University, Ohio, May 1970. A group of unarmed students is protesting against the escalation of the Vietnam war into Cambodia. The national guard is called in; things get out of hand. Four students – two protesting, two just passing by – are killed, nine are wounded, one is paralysed. Eleven days later, two students are killed and 12 wounded at Jackson State College, Mississippi.

Peace Now, 1970

These incidents inflamed the already volatile political atmosphere in American university campuses. The anti-war sentiment at the University of California, Berkeley, took on a new intensity: encouraged by the faculty, the university’s art students designed hundreds of anti-war posters, creating an estimated 50,000 silkscreen prints. They plastered them around campus and the rest of Berkeley and Oakland with the help of volunteers. Most have been lost, but 150 prints have been salvaged for an forthcoming exhibition, America in Revolt.

Security is a Slient Majority, 1970

One of the artists whose work is featured is Robin Repp, who got heavily involved in the anti-war movement while studying at Berkeley in 1970. “It was a really idealistic era,” she says. “Everybody was very concerned about the war. There was rioting in the street. We would go down to People’s Park and stick flowers in the national guard’s rifles.”
Peace is Patriotic, 1970

Across the country, political tensions were running high: it was customary for furious arguments to rage when students were reunited with their families during holidays. “They were from another generation, world war two, where you had to go to war if your government said go to war,” says Repp. “My dad used to get in horrible fights with my brother. But eventually he came around. My mum started going to protest marches in LA. There is a difference between a just war and a political war where you’re wasting a lot of lives.”
Money Talks: Boycott War Profiteers, 1970

The atmosphere around Berkeley was initially one of support, with lecturers putting on poster-making workshops, the liberal local community broadly agreeing with the anti-war sentiment. The art department cancelled their graduation ceremony in protest. But as the months wore on, the protesters were increasingly isolated. “By the fall it was business as usual,” says Repp. “It was eye-opening. The university suddenly stopped helping, stopped allowing us to use their rooms, it was over. I was rudderless for a while: it was very emotional to have it all cut off like that.”

American Flag (Untitled), 1970

Over time, until the end of the war in Vietnam was announced five years later, Repp’s idealism started to give way to disillusionment. Yet she remains sanguine that art can have an influence on politics: “I like to think the posters changed a lot of minds, that they helped end the war. It’s not like today, where you can post something on Facebook and have it go viral. It was much harder to get our ideas out. So posters were a really strong way of getting your message heard.
Stop the War, 1970

“Students made a lot of sacrifices to bring about awareness of an unjust war, especially Kent State. There is a thing called the ‘Berkeley promise’: everybody who goes to Berkeley is supposed to do something to make the world a better place. I hope that’s what we did.”
Your Son Next?, 1970

Let There Be Peace and Let It Begin with Me, 1970
by Robin Repp