In New Orleans last week we walked into a random club on Frenchmen St. just as the band was finishing a song. As the applause died away I heard the guitarist noodling through his wah-wah pedal with a familiar-sounding riff and my ears perked up. “Are they about to do ‘Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley?’” I asked.
Indeed they were.
“Sally” was written by Allen Toussaint and originally recorded by Lee Dorsey in 1970:
But probably the most famous version, and the one the bar band was clearly drawing its arrangement from, was the one Robert Palmer did — with the Meters as his backing band — in 1974:
Confusingly enough, “Sally” was also recorded by New Orleans musician Robert Parker:
Apologies in advance if that last one is preceded — as it was for me — by a Mike Bloomberg ad. Fucking Bloomberg.
I can say now in all honesty that in my time I have seen Courtney Barnett perform in a barn. Said barn is on the grounds of the Gundlach Bundschu winery in Sonoma, and is equipped with a stage and a sound system; but still.
The whole thing was really rather strange. It was the coldest day I’d ever experienced in Sonoma County, with an icy wind whipping through the vineyards; fortunately the barn was walled in on three sides, at least. After an opening set by a charming little German who calls herself Hachiku, Courtney turned up with her electric guitar looking fresh-faced and chipper. She did some old songs, some new songs, some covers — including “I’m So Lonesome Could Cry” and a set-closing version of Gillian Welch’s “Everything Is Free,” which she said was “one of the best songs ever written.” I can’t disagree.
Amazingly enough this song, which I learned about when it was used in Killing Eve, was written by the same guy who wrote “Seasons in the Sun.” That would be Canadian Terry Jacks, who at this time (1971) was playing with a unit called the Poppy Family with his future wife, Susan. Darkness seems to be his métier — this is just a fucking great, chills-down-the-spine banger.
Old friend Sam turned me onto this song, from Donovan’s Open Road album, this week:
Normally my standing New Year’s resolution is that, to the extent humanly possible, everything I do is going to be funky from now on. But the ideas expressed here are not incompatible with that. So let’s get on with it.
I recently finished Nabokov’s autobiography Speak, Memory. I feel like I understood most of it. With Nabokov there’s always a vague sense of embarrassment, even annoyance, that his writing in English — which is not even his native language, mind you — seems to be pitched at people with a level of literacy above my own. Forget about feeling in any way competitive with him as a writer; I’m talking about the struggle for basic comprehension on a survival level.
And then you come across a paragraph like this one, and what can you do but shake your head and bow in reverence?
Whenever in my dreams I see the dead, they always appear silent, bothered, strangely depressed, quite unlike their dear, bright selves. I am aware of them, without any astonishment, in surroundings they never visited during their earthly existence, in the house of some friend of mine they never knew. They sit apart, frowning at the floor, as if death were a dark taint, a shameful family secret. It is certainly not then – not in dreams – but when one is wide awake, at moments of robust joy and achievement, on the highest terrace of consciousness, that mortality has a chance to peer beyond its own limits, from the mast, from the past and its castle tower. And although nothing much can be seen through the mist, there is somehow the blissful feeling that one is looking in the right direction.
As we count down to Halloween and impeachment, this song from CCR’s 1969 album Green River seems appropriate to the moment, both chronologically and politically. With its dark subject matter and top-quality riffage, it’s every bit the equal of “Bad Moon Rising,” only a lot less overexposed.
It’s also fun to imagine that it’s actually called “Sinister Porpoise,” and go with the mental pictures prompted thereby. Try it, you’ll like it.
Word came across the transom today of the departure from this realm of Ginger Baker, drummer extraordinaire. Although most of the obits led with Cream, a great band to be sure, that was only about three years of his 50-year-plus career. He also played with everyone from Brit jazzbos the Graham Bond Organization and Afrobeat godhead Fela Kuti, to Hawkwind and his own Ginger Baker’s Air Force, to post-punk bands like Masters of Reality and Johnny Lydon’s Public Image, Ltd.
Here he is adding a relentless, pile-driving rhythm to PiL’s “FFF,” circa 1986. Say what you will about Ginger — subject of the aptly named 2012 documentary Beware of Mr. Baker — he was a force.
The great and powerful Ric Ocasek left us this week, and we are all the poorer for it. Ocasek was not just a rock legend, not just an esteemed producer, but also a genuinely funny person who had become a late-night comedy staple.
The justly beloved first Cars album was full of hits, but “I’m in Touch with Your World” was not one of them. In fact when I first owned the record, on vinyl back in the day, I would go out of my way to lift the needle and skip over it; it was just too strange, too spiky, too different. Now it’s my favorite song on the album, and it is, indeed, a lovely way to go.
This is one of my personal theme songs. It pretty much captures what I sound like when someone asks me what I do. “I don’t know… but I do it every day….”
And while we’re on the subject, here’s a quote I saved from the recent obituary of pianist Jörg Demus. To be honest I’d never heard of him before that, but he sounds like my kind of guy.
I do not have a career. I’m a person who had a life to live. I am leaving “careers” to other people. A career is like a racetrack for horses — I’m neither a horse nor am I running on a racetrack.
A few days ago I started J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise, a 1975 dystopian novel set in a London apartment tower. A paragraph in I was nodding to myself and mumbling, “Now that’s one hell of an opening.”
Imagine my surprise at scrolling the Twitter today and seeing it again, but in a new context.