Tag Archive | "Janis Joplin"

Remembering John Lennon

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Reams and reams have been written about John Lennon, gentle activist and one-half of the world’s most famous, prolific, and successful songwriting team: the half that was brutally slain on December 8th, 1980.  Much of John Lennon’s continuing eulogies, including a PBS special airing on November 22, 2010, stem from deeply devoted fans, those who keep his music and his memory close to their hearts.  I was not one of those fans.  And yet, John found a way to touch me.


Before I reveal how he did that, I should clarify why I was not a true fan.  When you understand that, you will have a clearer view of how he did touch me — from beyond the grave.


When Ed Sullivan unveiled The Beatles and thus changed the entire face of contemporary music, I was just nine years old.  Like every other kid and weeping, fainting adolescent girl, I fell in love with four mop-topped cuties from Liverpool.  But the love affair ended with their I Wanna Hold Your Hand phase.  A few months after The Beatles burst into living rooms across the U.S., you see, Ed introduced us all to The Rolling Stones.


Sneering, pug-ugly smoking guns with a lead singer embodying the log flume to hell for innocent little Catholic girls like me, the Stones’ gritty music was 180 degrees removed from the bright, bouncy tunes of The Beatles.   One look at and one listen to Mick and Company and The Beatles were nothing but a fond memory, pleasant little ditties on the radio.  Of all the bands to grace Ed Sullivan’s stage in that most glorious musical era, The Stones were the quintessential purveyors of bluesy rock. With its roots deep in the blood-soaked cotton fields of America’s Deep South, this music spoke to me, a nine-year-old kid, like no other.


As my friends played the latest Beatles’ LP backwards to hear the message about Paul’s “death” and decipher the group’s dress code on the album cover, (inferring his “demise”), I simply shrugged and spun The Stones, Creedence, my older Animals platters, and similar, blues-soaked rockers.  When my friends ooh’d and ahh’d over Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, I thought the entire concept — and the music — tres strange as I eased Joplin (Janis, not Scot!) and Led Zeppelin onto my turntable.


John Lennon, however, interested me, before and after the biggest band in the world disbanded.  He’d married a distinctly unattractive artist-cum-business mogul, when he could have had any woman in the world.  I liked that John saw beyond superficialities, put his money where his mouth was, and embraced Yoko’s quirkiness.


John was true to Yoko even though the world at large seemed to despise her, blaming her (unfairly) for the band’s breakup and unprecedented outrages such as the couple’s nude sit-in in their own bedroom, to which they’d cheerfully invited the press.  And then John broke the cardinal rule, the one established by legions of die-hard Beatles fans.  He began to make music with Yoko!  Paul, George, and Ringo he’d tossed aside, but Yoko became his new partner, and not only in music.


The daughter of a Japanese cattle rancher, she managed the couple’s businesses and finances.  John, in turn, became the stay-at-home dad “watching the wheels go round and round” as he raised his and Yoko’s only child, Sean Lennon.  John was watching those wheels not from a castle in the English countryside, but from a New York City apartment overlooking Central Park.  And while the British Tax Man that John had immortalized in song was sucking 90% of the income out of its mega-earning musicians, making expatriates out of many, John Lennon could have lived in a mansion in Beverly Hills or a beachfront in The Bahamas.  Instead, he chose an apartment in New York City – My City.


He said he’d liked Manhattan for its anonymity, and largely, he was right about that.  Those of us born and raised in New York rarely blink when we spy a celebrity, for in the city, there are nearly as many famous people as there are fish in the Hudson River.  Most native New Yorkers respect the privacy and personal space of celebrities.  But it was more than that that drew John to my city.


I think he must have loved it as I do, as every New Yorker does.  I think he loved waking up every morning to look down upon the huge oasis of Central Park, upon Cleopatra’s Needle, the lake, the zoo, the skating rink, and the rolling green miles of trees, grass, and trails (see the Park from the sky and you’ll understand how truly immense it really is).  I think he liked the museums, the Planetarium, the theater, the art galleries, the little clubs and the bigger venues, the restaurants, the street artists and musicians, the thousand dizzying cultures all melding and yet unique, the fact that life teemed and throbbed and never seemed truly quiet on such a tiny island, connected to the rest of the world by a series of bridges and underground tunnels.  And I think that, in the midst of this beautiful, cacophonous, rushing city, he found peace. For John was a man of peace.


When news of his murder at the hands of a twisted non-New Yorker broke, I was entrenched in the world of publishing.  Editors and editorial assistants, authors, the entire production department, sales and customer service reps, all laboring under terrible deadlines, came to a grinding halt.  Women burst into tears while the men were struck speechless. One editorial assistant fled the building and returned later with black armbands.


I was among the few who did not cry; neither did I wear an armband.  I wasn’t crazy about John’s post-I Wanna Hold Your Hand music.  It was just okay by me.  Perhaps it was too simple and gentle for me, for I was still steeped in hard, bluesy rock and getting my head turned by the angry young man who was Billy Joel and the nerd punk-rock god, Elvis Costello.  John Lennon did not need me to mourn him.  The world was mourning him and particularly, I think, my city — the city where he had felt so safe, the city that had loved him back.


As a strange, communal quietude hung over the city, its citizens grieved, laying armloads, truckloads of flowers at The Dakota, the building before which John had been gunned down, the building in which he’d lived with his wife and young son.  The faces on the subway and the crowded city streets were oddly subdued.  Eventually, the city stretched slowly, painfully back to life, like an arthritic too long asleep.


And still, I had not mourned John.


The week after his assassination, I found myself, at 6 AM, in the Port Authority — the old Port Authority.  This was the bus terminal where angels feared to tread, as the homeless struggled to find warm alcoves from which they would not be tossed, and muggers preyed gleefully upon commuters … including very young women, like me, sitting all alone on an empty bench at 6 AM on a weekday.


As a production vigilante in the days before desktop publishing, I was scheduled to sit shotgun on a typesetter in Connecticut, just before the book went to press.  Peter, my editor on this project, was coming along in case of disaster, but Peter was afraid to fly.  Young idiot that I was, I felt bad for him and decided to take the long bus ride up to Connecticut to keep him company.  I was an idiot because Peter and I were about as far apart in musical and artistic tastes, preferred cuisines, fashions, and personalities as Earth is from Alpha Centuri.  He was quiet to the point of being aloof; I was the Italian-American firecracker who abhorred protracted silences.


Peter was notoriously late, and I was notoriously early: another difference that separated us, another thing about him that ticked me off.  On that morning, waiting (once again!) for my editor, I bought a container of orange juice and a copy of Time magazine.  There on the cover was John Lennon.


It was just a headshot, or perhaps it was a drawing.  I cannot remember now, but I remember John’s face on that cover, still.  It was John, quintessential John. The gentle, quietly confident musician-singer-songwriter with the ubiquitous round spectacles.  The man who’d more than once turned the world on its ear, the man with the kind, knowing eyes whose wry humor telegraphed that nobody was getting one over on him.  The man who’d made gentle music and who had rallied for peace, even when half the world had jeered at him for doing so.


Inexplicably, my throat constricted and my eyes swelled.  On the cover of Time, John’s picture curdled with my salty tears.  I knew how utterly stupid it was to be crying all alone in the cavernous, pre-rush hour Port Authority; I knew that it made me a target for the muggers, the homeless, and the just plain crazed.  Still, I could not stop crying.


A shadow fell across the magazine and I looked up.  There stood Peter, his handsome face changing from sanguine to concerned the minute that he saw me.  “What’s wrong?” he demanded.  “Are you okay?”   Silently, I shook my head; the words would not come.  Again, he insisted, “What’s wrong?!?”  In answer, I held up the magazine and said only, “John,” in the voice of one who suddenly realizes she has lost something ephemeral and very precious, something irreplaceable. 


I watched as Peter’s face changed again, to complete understanding.  In that moment, I had finally achieved total, soul-level understanding with a man with whom I had worked closely for months, a man who had not previously understood one damned thing about me — and whom I had not understood.  John Lennon did that.  He made that connection.  He leveled the barriers between two hard-nosed, stubborn, diametrically opposed New Yorkers and brought us to a moment of total understanding … and afterwards, a sort of silent truce.


I think that John Lennon did that for many, many other people all around the world.  I think that somehow, he is doing that still.


The Incomparable Jody Joseph: One Diva, One Legend, One Woman

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On September 25, 2010, at Brookdale Community College PAC in Lincroft, New Jersey, Jody Joseph will do what she does best: combine her music with her ongoing dedication to give back to the community.  Sharing a gene pool with opera legend Mario Lanza and garage band rocker-turned-chart buster Jon Bon Jovi, Jody’s style weaves strong influences of Janis Joplin and Stevie Nicks with her own spiritually flavored blues, soul, and rock.


With three albums under her belt — including her debut The Only Way Out is Through produced under the auspices of Scott Welch, who has worked with Alanis Morissette — Jody fronts a tight, highly competent band.  The artist and her group have, respectively, been nominated for four Asbury Music Awards (including “Best Female Vocalist” and “Best Rock Band”).  Joseph herself was named “Living Legend 2009” at the Asbury Music Awards.


Over the past decade, Jody has performed her tributes as well as her own material to glowing reviews and appreciative audiences at venues in New York City and New Jersey.  On September 25th, at the PAC, you can see her slip into the skins of gone but never forgotten blues phenomenon, Janis Joplin, and Stevie Nicks, best known for her enduring work with the seminal Fleetwood Mac.


Does Jody transform, on stage, into Pearl and The Gypsy?  She does, by virtue of wardrobe and mannerisms.  But beyond the trappings, Jody Joseph has the vocal chops to carry it off.   Her voice swings from gritty-soulful blues goddess Joplin on covers such as Ball & Chain to Stevie Nicks’ quirky, throaty, signature vibretto on crowd pleasers such as Stand Back.


Jody Joseph – Ball & Chain

 

 

 

Jody Joseph – Stand Back

 


Stand back now, because here comes some truth.  Nobody’s ever going to do it for me like Janis did, and there is only one Stevie Nicks.  But Jody Joseph comes damned close, and she imbues her performances with genuine respect for the two artists who have shaped her craft.  As far as her homage to Janis goes, Big Brother and the Holding Company agree, and you can’t get a better testimonial than that.  Joplin’s original band invited Jody to accompany them as their lead singer on their 2006 Northeast tour.


A portion of the proceeds from Jody’s September 25th gig will benefit the charity, Mary’s Place by the Sea. The organization, whose services includes holistic and spa treatments, is dedicated to rejuvenating the spirits of women following traditional cancer therapy.    Still a young charity, Mary’s Place by the Sea has aspirations of expanding nationwide by the start of the next decade.


Because of the intimate nature of the venue, seating for Jody Joseph’s “One Diva, One Woman, One Legend” show is limited.  Please note that tickets can only be obtained be calling this hotline number: (732) 544-8513. 




It Was Forty Years Ago Today

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Woodstock

Highways and byways clogged with streaming throngs, personnel and equipment “air-vac’d” via helicopter, emergency plans slapped into place.  A scene from disaster movie?  Breaking news of a natural or manmade catastrophe?  Neither.  This was Woodstock, a free (in more ways than one), three-day fete spanning the weekend of August 15th to August 18th, 1969 and celebrating the rock n’ roll, pop rock, and folk-rock music as well as the very spirit of its generation.

 

Held in Sullivan County in upstate New York at Max Yasgur’s dairy farm and surrounding open areas, the event was originally conceived as a business venture, the brainchild of two young, ambitious men joined by two others.  To shorten a long story, this brainchild sprang up practically overnight to give birth to a child of its own that bore little resemblance to its parent.   Attracting nearly half a million attendees exclusive of the thirty-two musical acts that performed that weekend, the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, a.k.a. The Woodstock Festival, served as the turning point in the careers of previously obscure talents as well as the catalyst that widened the chasm of the Generation Gap and an experience that enriched those fortunate enough to have been on the scene.  “On the scene” included two infants who made their entrance into the world during the festival, and three souls who quit the earth: two as a result of a drug overdoses, the other the victim of a freak vehicular accident.

 

That historic rainy weekend became a good-natured free-for-all splashing and cavorting merrily in the mud.  A view from the stage revealed a swelling sea of humanity in tie-dyed garb, bathing suits, and birthday suits.  Of both sexes, of all ages (most of them under the dreaded three-decade mark), from different races, cheery either by disposition, the natural camaraderie, or recreational drugs, everyone seemed high on the music.  In a nation torn asunder by racial strife, the conflict in Vietnam, and the assassination of our brightest and best leaders, brave, outspoken music united and healed.  Woodstock’s arena became the actual and symbolic outcry of a generation: a great chorus blending the voices of artists with activists and plain ol’ lovers of great music.

 

With the New York Thruway jammed for miles and scheduled acts stranded in the gridlock, the concert’s organizers pressed first into service the acoustic performers (their equipment was not stuck on the highway or hovering overhead in helicopters).   Richie Havens opened strumming an acoustic guitar and unveiling his gravely-folksy voice, eventually finding himself facing the equivalent of the “dead air monster” that lurks in wait for every radio DJ: he had run out of material.  Confronting a live, music-hungry crowd of half a million, Richie improvised with Freedom, thus keeping the peace until his replacement arrived.  (The incomparable Ray Charles would one day find himself in the same sticky situation.  Flying by the seat of his pants, Brother Ray spontaneously combusted the catchy What’d I Say, which became one of his most memorable songs.)

 

Richie Havens and his mates presented a kaleidoscope of genres and styles, showcasing the talents of established and budding musical luminaries.  These ranged from the great sitar player, Ravi Shankar, discovered by the Beatles during their journey to India, to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s blistering Southern rock political manifestos, to the folk-activist ballads of Arlo Guthrie and Joan Baez, to Janis Joplin, a brave Texan who challenged racial bigots in her high school corridors and far beyond, and whose keening pipes channeled old Delta blues men.  John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful was also on hand as a spectator but got shoved up on stage to perform, as did Joe McDonald of Country Joe and the Fish, who was contemplating a solo career and who launched said career, unplanned, as he too was Russian-volunteered as one of the acts.  The gritty poet voice of Bob Dylan was blowin’ in the wind, and Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, and the other members of The Band were hefting The Weight.  Santana, an unknown, tremendous talent, was leaving mouths hanging open and causing tears to flow with their achingly beautiful, bluesy-Latin fusion.  Before exploding onto the scene in the wake of Woodstock, Santana played free of charge in the streets of San Francisco, where that city’s residents dug their sounds, including my own dear cousin who early on pegged Carlos and his fellows as rising stars.

 

The closing act was Jimi Hendrix, an electric guitarist whose hard rock chops and black skin did not mesh well with the myopic suits Stateside.  Hendrix, who went on to set fire to the rock world as well as his famous guitar, only gained the full respect due him professionally after he migrated to England, which was a lot less color blind.

 

Forty years after this musical love-in galvanized a generation of free thinkers, we can track the careers and personal lives of the musicians who jammed during that three-day fest.  What we cannot track so easily are the lives of the latter-day hippies who frolicked in the rain.  What happened to those two children born during Woodstock?  Did they grow up political activists or perhaps attorneys defending the disenfranchised by way of the Legal Aide Society?  Did they grow up musicians, having heard some of the most incredible music of the day in the moment that they first saw sunlight refracted in the raindrops?  Did they mature into aficionados of soul music that knows no color but recognizes a common bond in the human spirit, or do they prefer the commercial drivel that has infested our airwaves for far too long?

 

Are they farmers, having taken their inspiration from the earth that received them as they made their way into the world?  Are they cops or soldiers, driven to maintain law and order and defend the masses in an ironic “up yours” to their anti-military parents?

 

And what became of those parents after Jimi’s last guitar chord lingered on the moist air and the crowd dispersed to go their separate ways?  Did they develop new technologies or medical breakthroughs?  Did they become teachers, social workers, or psychiatrists?  Construction workers, CDL drivers, or marketing mavens?  Did some of them migrate to Israel to live on a kibbutz, work the land, and share their resources with their fellows?  Or did they remain a lot closer to home and join forces in communes?   Did they pull a 180 and bow to The Man?  Did they trade in their sandals and headbands for suits and ties, melting away into office buildings, towing the company line, and buying into the American Dream like the character in Jackson Browne’s chilling song, The Pretender:

 

I’m going to be a happy idiot,
And struggle for the legal tender
Where the ads take aim and lay their claim
To the heart and the soul of the spender.
And believe in whatever may lie
In those things that money can buy,
Though true love could have been a contender
Are you there?
Say a prayer
For the pretender
Who started out so young and strong
Only to surrender.

 

If those who attended Woodstock entered the halls of huge corporations, what exactly were their roles there?  Were some of them engineers of the Enron scam or more recently, the $700 billion bilking of American public?  Did they pervert their love of music by signing and robbing new artists blind under the guise of legal sanctions?  Did they fade into the woodwork?

 

Are they living next door to you?  Did they marry your sister or brother?  Do they stare back at you when you gaze into the mirror?  And if so, does the restless, hopeful spirit that once bound your generation still beat in your breast and uplift you and compel you to do the things you do?  Do you remember, to steal a lyric from Steve Winwood, “the bigness and the mud?”  Do your memories of that storied weekend and the tenets unpinning it determine how you vote, how you have raised your children, and the nature of the organizations that you support?  Or are you just slugging away, day after day, like a drone in a hive?   Do you still dream?  And mostly importantly, can you?

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