Thursday, October 29, 2009

Clean Coal is a Dirty Lie

I was at a protest yesterday morning at JPMorgan Chase headquarters for Waterkeeper, Rainforest Action Network, Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth. They're trying to get the investment bank to divest from mountaintop removal mining, which devastates communities and the environment throughout Appalachia. John Wathen, the Hurricane Creek Keeper, pictured here on Gothamist, eloquently expressed the reasons why mountaintop removal is so pernicious, casting it not only as an environmental disaster, but also as a social issue of rich banks vs. people too poor to defend their rights. He's very convincing because he's lived it and fought the banks in court.

Waterkeeper calls the myth of 'clean coal' a Dirty Lie.

The protest was supported by the Rude Mechanicals Orchestra who have a nice Shakespearean name and get the musical clip of the day with their version of a klezmer standard:

These musical agitators are available for raucous parties for a cause and all your protest needs. And if you play the serpent - especially the tenor, your should get in touch with them.

Music from the Little Rascals

I never know if others are already aware of things I feel I've "discovered", but this is one thing I'll take the risk on.

If you grew up on Hal Roach comedies, the Little Rascals, Laurel and Hardy, maybe even Charlie Chase, you remember the music. You may not even realize that you remember it because it was background music in certain scenes, just there, sort of sneaking into your subconscious. At other times, the music really underscores the action, whether a chase, or perhaps one of those improbable love scenes where Chubby goes all soft for Miss Crabtree.

About ten years ago, my wife brought all those Little Rascals memories up fresh in my mind when she gave me this record:

It turns out that all this was written by someone called Leroy Shields. When I listen to these little airs, I'm struck by how good they are. The credit for these tunes getting a fresh hearing goes to the Beau Hunks, a tight group of talented Dutch musicians who specialize in unearthing forgotten swing and modern jazz of the the 30's and 40's.

Listening to these is like finding a lost toy you forgot how much you missed.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Look who it is!

I'll never forget the first time I heard Helen Shapiro sing this song. I was driving my 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air (a sierra gold and adobe beige 4-door) home after a date. It was 1985 and as usual for a Saturday night, I was listening to the Wolfman Jack show on the Philco car radio. To the uninitiated, Wolfman Jack was on in the middle of the night.

Helen recorded this song in 1963 when she was 16 years old and Britain's top female singer, two months before I was born. The Londoner recorded her first hit at age 14, "You Don't Know".

Years later, I'm still struck by her deep voice - incredible for a teenager, her impressive poise, and of course her marvelous beehive. I can't help but wonder who those three guys are in that "Top of the Pops" clip, though.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Five Years Old...

If you're like me (and who isn't?), you remember being five years old and lying on your parents oatmeal colored shag carpet in the dining room (odd color choice for a dining room rug in an Italian household; its like inviting disappointment). More often than not, I'll hear an old song that will take me right back to where I heard it. That rug is where this 1968 song, by Beatles protege Mary Hopkin, always takes me.

Now, you may find yourself thinking, "Shouldn't this be sung by a much older, much more Russian woman?" Yet somehow, she seemed much older than me at the time, and now, I have all those years "gone rushing by" to give me enough perspective for this song to have quite a different effect on me now than it did then.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Help of the helpless...

...Abide with me.

As an American atheist, I can't help but wonder why I love this very English hymn. Most Brits know it from the FA cup final, and Yanks probably know it from the Full Monty

This summer, I kept humming Abide with Me to myself as I drove from London, to Salisbury, to Evesham, to Liverpool, to Keswick, to Nottingham, to York and back to London. It somehow reinforced the beauty of the English countryside. Now, at work in Manhattan, I'm humming it again. Here's a 1932 recording, and several other versions of it -

Its a great, simple melody entwined with stirring harmony. It makes Amazing Grace sound tinny and hollow. I really hate Amazing Grace.