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Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Mott the Hoople
Atlantic : 1971
Once, many years ago, I left my small town to travel to the big city. Before I left, I spent the better part of the evening with the woman I loved, kissing her and running my hands across her shoulders and back. At dawn, I embraced my parents and set out on foot, with nothing in my pack except food, a canteen, and a knife. What else do you need?
The city was five days away. The first few days were calm and the weather was mild. But the third night, I heard owls hooting with menace, and I felt my solitude and my terror. I rolled up my pack before the sun rose and set out at a clip, eager to cover as much distance as possible. After an hour, though, I was exhausted. The sun I had waited for had come up and stayed up, beating down on me violently. I was on a desert now, and to say that it was unbearable is an understatement.
SEARCHING THE DESERT FOR THE BLUES
Blind Willie McTell
Okeh : 1932
Available on: Statesboro Blues
RCA : 2003
A mile more of desert would have been the end of me. Luckily, I came to a flat plain punctuated with small deep lakes. I took my canteen out of my pack and filled it with water from the nearest lake. The water was cool and sweet. I drank again. The third time, when I touched the canteen to the surface of the lake, I saw something flicker in the corner of my eye. It was a gold bird, standing on the edge of the lake.
"Hello," said the bird.
"Hello," I said. To say that I was surprised would not quite have conveyed my state.
"Have you enjoyed your trip so far?" the bird said.
"Well," I said, "yes." I felt strange, but the more I spoke to the bird, the more comfortable I became speaking to the bird. It was quite a pleasant bird, with a friendly expression on its little face, and after a few moments I considered him a friend. It is hard for me to say this without sounding foolish, even to myself, but there it was.
SOMETHING IN THE WATER DOES NOT COMPUTE
Warner : 1982
Suddenly, I saw a shadow in the deep part of the lake. With a start I realized that it was a sea snake. It was as long and as thick as a man’s leg, with sharp yellow teeth and rough green-brown skin, and it was heading right for the edge of the lake where the bird was standing. Without thinking, I took my knife from my bag and swung it down into the pond, cutting the snake cleanly in half. The lower half of the beast fell down to the lake's bottom. For a moment the bird and I just looked at each other. The bird spoke first. "Thank you," he said. His voice was unsteady. He lifted one wing and then the other and then flew away over the lake.
I continued on my journey. Near day's end, in the shadow of a tree, I sat down to take a nap. I was closing my eyes when a giant sea snake leapt out of the lake. The snake that had menaced the bird was terrifying; this one was almost twice as large. Its eyes were a terrifying blackness that appeared endless. The huge snake put a coil around me and doused me with its foul breath. "What?" I managed to say.
"I hope that you have not fixed your mind too firmly on the city," the snake said, "for you are fated to die here."
The snake explained that the first snake I had seen, the one I had cut in half, was her son. She had gone underwater, moving from lake to lake, waiting for the moment when she could spring upon me and take my life. "Take my life?" I said. "But I did not kill your son from malice. He was coming for the bird that I had befriended."
"I do not care," the snake said.
"Please," I said. "Make an exception."
The snake made an angry noise. "I will spare your life on one condition."
Available on: The Original Northern Soul Selection
Original Selection : 2005
"This tree above us," the snake said, "is a blood pear tree, They are extremely rare. Look." I looked up and saw what appeared to be a handful of giant bells, hanging from the highest branches of the tree. "I have never tasted a blood pear," said the snake.
"Why don't you just wait until they fall?"
"They only fall after the first of the year, when we are burrowed into the bottoms of the lakes. By the time we come up again in spring, they have spoiled. I fear that I will never taste one unless someone knocks it down for me."
"Okay," I said. "I will try to climb the tree and knock down a blood pear."
"No," the snake continued. "You must knock one down from here. If you cannot, I will kill you."
My heart pounded in my ears. I thought of my family, of the woman I loved. I prayed to every god I could think of but received no answer and no relief. The face of the woman I loved was fading. I was done for. I knew it. I cursed every god I could think of.
NO FRIEND OF MINE
The Lie That You Believe
Black Fly : 2005
At that moment I heard a sharp crack, and a moment later something rushed by me and thudded into the ground. It was a blood pear. The snake's eyes widened, and she took the pear in her mouth and slithered back into the lake.
I stood slowly. I could hardly breathe. I would live to visit the city after all. I would return to the woman I loved. I picked up my pack and started to walk away from the tree. And it was then that I saw the gold bird from the lake, its face smashed flat and bloody where it had hit the pear, its body cold and dead on the ground.
CRASHING BY DESIGN
White City: A Novel
Atlantic : 1985
Labels: atlantic records, ben, rhythm and blues, soul
posted by Ben
Friday, December 15, 2006
ROCK ME TO SLEEP
Little Miss Cornshucks
Carol : 1950
Available on: The Chronological Little Miss Cornshucks 1947-1951
Classic Records : 2003
My friend Ahmet Ertegun passed away the other day. I only met him once, so calling him my friend says less about our relationship than it does about the effect he had on people. But Ertegun and I spent three or four hours together, in his office at Atlantic Records, high above Rockefeller Center in New York. He was dressed in a cream-colored blazer and dark slacks. He was immaculate, and brilliant. And he had kind things to say, not only about Little Miss Cornshucks (whom he'd loved and recorded privately, for his own collection, before starting Atlantic), but about musicians who're younger than I am. He'd had a few strokes by then, and I endeared myself by knowing many of the names he couldn't quite remember: Bunny Berrigan, Papa Jones. I think it gave him hope that a twenty-something would know those names, and how much they'd meant, and he told me that Elvis Presley (whose contract he'd bid on) was the first white guy he'd heard who didn't sound black, but didn't sound corny, and that Angus Young was a fine and underratted guitarist. He had a lot of hope in kids like Kid Rock.
(Here's what Ertegun had to say elsewhere, about Little Miss Cornshucks:
"In 1943, when I was 19 or so, I went to a nightclub in the northeast black ghetto section of Washington and heard a singer whose name was Little Miss Cornshuks and I thought, 'My God!!!' She was better than anything I'd ever heard. She would come out like a country girl with a bandana and a basket in her hand, and so forth, which she'd set aside fairly early on into the show. She could sing the blues better than anybody I've ever heard to this day. I asked her that night if she would make a record of her for myself. We cut 'Kansas City' along with some other blues and she also sang a song called 'So Long'. She just had such a wonderful sound and I remember thinking, 'My God! My God!' And I didn't have a record company. I just made these records for myself.")
Most of what follows is a tiny chunk of the portion of our conversation I got on tape. We talked for a few hours more when I turned the recorder off, and as I left, he invited me to lunch. "I'd love to," I said, and Ertegun put his hands to his chest and said, "From the heart." I got immersed in my book; he was a busy man. I never called. So from the heart is just how I'll remember him.
* * *
"It was not uncommon among members of my generation (the generation that grew up as wards of the meretricious adulthood of the nineteen fifties) for one to feel one's strong sense of reality through the agency of Negro Music," George W. S. Trow wrote, in a two-part New Yorker profile of Ahmet Ertegun, in 1978. And while Trow now lived reclusively, Ertegun was very much on the scene, acting as a sort of executive emeritus of the record company he'd founded more than fifty years earlier.
It was Ertegun who'd helped Ray Charles find his own, true voice, and in 1954 - the year Elvis Presley first entered a recording studio - records issued by Atlantic, Atlantic subsidiaries, or Atlantic-affiliated labels accounted for seven out of ten of the top rhythm and blues records in Billboard's year-end round up. The original versions of "Shake, Rattle, and Roll," "Sh-Boom," "Such a Night," Save the Last Dance for Me," "Spanish Harlem," "What'd I Say," "Land of 1000 Dances," "On Broadway," "Good Lovin," "Tipitina," and "In the Midnight Hour" were all Atlantic singles. So were "Drinkin' Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee," "Yakety-Yak," "Respect" (both the Otis Redding original and Aretha Franklin's cover), "Tighten Up," "Green Onions," "Soul Man," "Poison Ivy," and "Stand by Me." And by the time Elvis Presley was losing his way through nightly renditions of "Without Love (There is Nothing)" (which had also been an Atlantic single), Atlantic had signed Led Zeppelin, The Velvet Underground, Roxy Music, Mott the Hoople, Alice Cooper, CSN&Y, Genesis, Yes, Bad Company, and the Rolling Stones.
I sent Ertegun some articles I'd written, asked for an audience.
"Rock and roll was an explosion we couldn't stay out of," he told me, a few weeks later. "It wasn't black. But, you know, we weren't doing opera! It was a similar mode."
Ertegun had himself discovered black music in London, in the early 1930s, when his father was serving as the Turkish ambassador to England and his brother, Nesuhi, took him to see Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington's bands. "There were incredible experiences," Eretegun said, "because the jazz I'd heard on records couldn't compare to the way these bands sounded live." A few years later, Ertegun pere became Turkey's war-time ambassador to the United States, and Ahmet discovered that American whites knew very little about the music he'd come to love. "You couldn't find jazz easily," he told me. "In Washington, there was so much separation. The big bands like Basie's and Ellington's didn't play at the Capitol theatre or the Warner Brother's Earle (where Benny Goodman, Bob Crosby, and the Tommy Dorsey band played). They played at the Howard, which was the Washington counterpart of the Apollo. When I was fourteen or fifteen, we had a dance at the embassy-a dance for kids my age, teenagers. Through a guy named Cleo Payne, who worked at the embassy as a janitor, I hired a jazz orchestra. The band came and played dance music-a bit of what they called pop music in those days, I suppose-but everyone loved it. They'd never been to a dance with a real black orchestra."
The concerts Ahmet and Nesuhi organized at the embassy, at a local Jewish center, and, eventually, at the National Press Club, were among the first integrated events in the nation's capitol. "We recieved letters from Southern senators: 'It was been brought to my attention, Sir, that a person of color has entered your house by the front door. I have to inform you that, in our country, this is not a practice to be encouraged.'" Ertegun says. "My father had a one-sentence reply 'Friends enter by the front door,' he'd say, 'but we can arrange for you to enter from the back.'" In 1945, Ertegun-then studying Aquinas in graduate school at Georgetown-began hanging out in a record shop called Waxie Maxie's, befriended its owner, and took stock of its inventory. In 1947, he moved to New York and, together with a Jewish dentistry student named Herb Abramson, formed Atlantic.
"I went into the music business in order to make records that would sell to a black audience," Ertegun says. "That was the music I knew, understood, and could produce. I was primarily a jazz man, but jazz records did not sell, in large quantities-to anybody. My brother had already run jazz labels out on the West Coast. But when Herb Abramson and I started Atlantic, we wanted to make any kinds of records that would sell. We were really thinking of the R'n'B market. Race records, as they were called. Gospel. Blues. Meaning, black music.
"Most people don't really understand it this way, but black music is what we're talking about. Everything we hear is black music, and imitations of black music. And there's a reason why black music is the only music which has become international...."
* * *
Little Miss Cornshucks - Mildred Cummings - died in Indianapolis, in 1999. She and Ertegun both were born in 1923.
Labels: ahmet ertegun, alex, atlantic records
posted by Alex