Peggy Lee Revisited

A recent discussion on the message board brought back memories from my youth of a glamorous figure in a time when glamour had not yet assumed the tawdry implications that would later become attached to it.  In 1959, Peggy Lee appeared in an engagement at a nightclub in New York City called Basin Street East, a place in which she’d achieved a triumph the year before.  The poster announcing her return was displayed in front of the club and became a sensation unto itself.  Versions of it made their way into newspapers, and it was pasted up on available surfaces everywhere on the island of Manhattan.  In it, Peggy was wearing a white, backless, sequined gown, and the picture was taken from behind.  Her bare back, revealed to the waist, was a thing of beauty to behold, and she was looking over her shoulder, her mysteriously lovely countenance caught in a look of elegant seduction.  Whatever else she might have been, she was certainly an astonishing presence.  Sparks seemed to fly away from her person and draw strangers into the aura they projected.  This startling vision was, at the same time, contrasted by a clear statement of aloofness, distance, and unavailability.  There was no question that the image being observed, although unquestionably magnificent, was an artifice that she had created.  It was a measure of her talent in this regard that nobody ever asked about the real woman behind the mask.  In bold letters above the photo, the caption read, “PEGGY’S BACK!”

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Cowgirl, Cowboy

ooh ooh ooh weep padoo,
ooh ooh ooh wooop padoo
ooh ooh, ooh
ooh ooh ooh weep padoo
singing their cowboy song

Cowboy couldn’t believe Emmy Lou sang that song. He’d thought it was a throw-away – though he’d found it infectious beginning age six – from a cowboy compilation record with a wild west lasso cover, and lyrics remembered as the kid heard it: not “cattle call,” but “cowboy song,” and maybe he heard it right.

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Travel Guide (Part One)

bruce-corvette

This essay links trips in Bruce Springsteen’s memoir, Born to Run, to rambles in Russell Banks’ Book of Jamaica, Michael Ventura’s Night Time, Losing Time, and Richard Meltzer’s The Night (Alone). It also takes in riffs in Meltzer’s reportage and recordings–including Springsteen’s (out of the archives though still under the radar) Hammersmith Odeon, London ’75–that soundtrack passages in Born to Run. But foundational things first: the book of Bruce comes out of Jack’s so this tour starts with…

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Putin vs. King Remembered in Time

The music video above, in which an African emigre duo who call themselves A.M.G. extol Putin, seems to soundtrack Nathan Osborne’s musings on the link between contemporary rap and Trumpery.  But there are (always) countervailing trends in the hip hop nation as you’ll see if you try videos in the body of this text by Big K.R.I.T.—a rapper from the Dirty South. He makes conscious music for our mess age: “I don’t rap, I spit hymns.” K.R.I.T. stands for King Remembered In Time.  (A.M.G.’s initials, OTOH, are associated with the Mercedes logo.)

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Boss Tenor

Out Christmas shopping yesterday, your editor lucked into Gene Ammons’s Boss Tenor for $6. Bet you’ll get gone if you go here and listen to the first track, “Hittin’ the Jug.”  And here’s the rest of the gift: Amiri Baraka’s spontaneously lovely liner notes.

I suppose Gene Ammons is what you could call a real hybrid. His playing is a perfect (albeit weird) assimilation of two widely opposed ideas of playing the tenor saxophone. Gene somehow manages to sound like he comes right out of Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, the two farthest poles in the business of playing the tenor saxophone.  

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Jug Eyes

Originally posted at First in 2012.

The Boss is Back! The album was on the Prestige label, the first Gene Ammons made after being released in 1969 from Stateville Penitentiary following a seven-year term for heroin possession. With Junior Mance on piano and Buster Williams on bass. Bernard Purdie on drums, Candido on conga, it’s a hell of a record. Ammons’s tenor holler breaks loose over the hard funk backing, out of the horn something like a contagious fire catching on the fills and slides and the stuttering beats.

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Pro Love

Corinne Bailey Rae’s husband Jason Rae died in his sleep, his breathing suppressed by an accidental overdose of methadone.  It’s difficult to listen to her singing “I’d Do it All Again” and not imagine you are hearing a woman coming to terms with the death of her lover.

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Telegraphing the Future

Johnny Cash’s cover of “Sea of Heartbreak” fades out with the guitarist in his band (the Heartbreakers) locked on the familiar, insinuating riff from Bob Dylan’s “I Want You.”[1] Cash’s endgame mixes up his story of lost love with fanship. It’s a rootsy, Prousty lesson in counterpoint that hints what Dylan’s song owed to Don Gibson’s 1961 hit, even as it bows to what Cash’s old friend found down by the “Sea.”

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Twenty-Something(s)

Charles O’Brien helps launch the new First Choice section focusing on our writers’ favorite things. 

“Twenty-Something” is the third track on Pet Shop Boys’ latest cd, Super. You can find it on YouTube in a few different versions. The two most obvious go-to versions are the “official video” and one remix. The “official video” is a b&w short about a gangbanger in San Diego, fresh out of the joint and trying desperately to adjust to the world. It’s about as efficient a short narrative as you’re likely to see, and as an illustration of these lyrics, not what you’d be likely to expect.

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A Dylanist’s Diary

“My monthly income is $500. I just spent $130 of that on the newly released Dylan Basement Tapes.  My daddy thinks I’m no good with money.” That’s the opening of the following diary in which the late Carmelita Estrellita noted down her responses to Bob Dylan’s sixties sessions with the Band in Woodstock.

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The Man with the Purple Guitar

For a long time, my image of the Ugly American was a thick-necked Prince hater I met (early in the Age of Reagan) when he drove me around the Upper West Side as I delivered Christmas gifts for a package store.  This piece of work (who had a familial connection to the owners and wanted me to know he was tight with my bosses) had seen Prince open for the Stones in 1981. He’d been among thousands in the overwhelmingly white crowd who booed the “faggot” unmercifully.

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