Wednesday, March 28, 2007

During his term in office ...

I was listening to a discussion today about John Edwards and whether the fact that his wife, Elizabeth, is in remission for breast cancer would have a negative effect on his presidency if he were indeed elected. Can someone be an effective leader if they have too much turmoil in their private life? Then someone brought up some other awful events that happened to some US presidents while they were in office, most of which I have never heard before.

President Lincoln lost a child during his presidency. Mary Todd's and his third son, William Wallace Lincoln, died of typhoid fever at the age of 12. Even at the time of Lincoln's death a few years later, he hadn't gotten over the lost.

President Kennedy's wife, Jacklyn, lost a child in childbirth during his presidency. Just 3 months before his assassination.

The most interesting one is that of Grover Cleveland. During his second term as president, he contacted jaw cancer. Due to the extreme financial depression of the country during the 1890's, Cleveland kept his surgery secret and had the tumor removed on his private yacht. While under nitrous oxide, his jaw was removed and never put back just right. This left him with speech problems there after.

Also, I knew that President Wilson had a stroke during his term and that his wife ran the country in secret for a while. If this had happened now, with the 25th amendment, he could have been removed from office.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Kurt Anderson and Spy

I was reading a book review in the New York Times this morning. It caught my eye because it was about a book called Hey Day by Kurt Anderson and I had to check to see if this was the same Kurt Anderson whomI had h eard of (and whom I am fond of). I have been listening to Studio 360 (on Nation Public Radio and now via Podcast) for about 8 years now. It is a great show most of the time. They take one subject and attempt to show all sides of that subject. At least that used to be their format, they don't always stick to it. Their recent American Icons series was great where they took great American icons (like The Wizard of Oz or and The Great Gatsby) and really delved into them for the whole hour.

I did not know Anderson was an author, apparently a good one. But he is also the founder of the now defunct Spy Magazine. Spy was a spoof magazine, not quite as spoofy as The Onion and took on the entertainment industry. They took the name of the magazine from the fictitious magazine that employed Jimmy Stewart's character in The Philadelphia Store, one of my favorite classic Hollywood films. Spy was sometimes scandalous and was sued quite often. They also published a full frontal nude photo of the current governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and also published a picture of his father's Nazi Party membership card.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Halloween Jack and Todd Browning

A few years ago, I sold my old record collection. I had stopped listening to vinyl almost the moment I bought a CD player. They were collecting dust and everytime I moved they were a royal pain in the ass. So I broke down and sold them. I miss them so I am slowly buying them back in CD or digitally (sometimes song by song on Itunes). I rarely listen to CDs now that I have the digital wireless beaming thoughout the house. It makes me wonder what it is next with technology changing so fast. I can't imagine would could be better than having 3,000 songs with me throughout the day on my Ipod. I received a CD copy of David Bowie's Diamond Dogs (along with one of his newer ones Reality) in yesterday's mail. Immediately upon removing it from its wrapper I imported it into Itunes. I might not ever play this CD again. Now my CDs sit around and collect dust. At least they are smaller and take up less real-estate.

Now that I have the magic of the internet at my disposal, the mysteries of the lyrics on this CD can be explained. In particular, in the song "Diamond Dogs" there is a line: "Dressed like a preist you was, Todd Browning's freak you was". With the quick click in Google, I discovered that Todd Browning was the director of the cult film, Freaks. Years ago, I remember hanging out at my buddy Russell's apartment on Halloween and renting this film. After about five minutes, I made him turn it off finding it too disturbing. This had probably more to do with my state of mind at the time than anything else. I've been singing this lyric for years and only now do I know what it means.

Diamond Dogs is one of Bowie's masterpieces. It was originally supposed to be a musical version of George Orwell's 1984 but midway through recording, they were asked to stop by the Orwell estate. Many of the references to the novel remain including the Shaft-like song "1984" and the apocyphal "Big Brother." The references to the Orwell novel are still there but the narrative goes off in another tangent entirely. The main character of the album, Halloween Jack, lives on the top floor of Manhattan Chase in a post apacalyptic New York now named Hunger City. Like Ziggy Stardust before him, he plays guitar and has savior-like tendencies. In this album, Bowie says good-bye to glitter rock and to his guitarist Mick Ronson and the rest of the Spiders from Mars. He plays the lead guitar himself giving it a different sound than the albums before it. Change is the only constant that I expect from Bowie and I am looking forward to hearing his new Reality.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Jones and the Stones

When one thinks of the Rolling Stones, one can't help but think of the two most famous front men, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. But early on, Brian Jones was the star of the band. When the band first started getting gigs, they were billed as Brian Jones, Mick Jagger and the Rollin' Stones. The first names were eventually dropped when they realized tht name of the band was too long. I am not sure when the Rollin' was changed to the Rolling. Apparently, Jones is the one who created the name of the band. He was booking the band before they had a name and was asked over the phone what their name was. He looked down at a Muddy Waters album and saw the track named "Rollin' Stone Blues" and that became their name.

In the early years of the band, when they were unknown, Jones was the animated one on stage. While Jagger stood still to sing, Jones was running about the stage rarely using any one instrument back to back. He grew bored easily and was talented not only as a guitar player but with most string instruments and horns. He also sang backing vocals. It was this interest in such instruments as the sitar, tamboura and marimba that made the Stone's sound so much different than other bands of their era. If not for this, they may have disappeared into obscurity. Jones also played the sax for The Beatles on the song, "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)" My favorite Brian Jones contribution to the Stones is probably his playing of the mellotron on "She's a Rainbow." Nothing like it in all of rock 'n roll. Also, love the harmonica on "Dear Doctor."

While most of the Stones where quite clean and their bad image was just that ... an image, Brian's was not just an image. He experimented with drugs early in his career and his drug arrests helped make their bad boy image easier to sell for manager, Andrew Loog Oldman. Oldman is the guy who created the phrase, "Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone?" Jones' antics made his job easy.

Some of rock 'n roll's greatest albums were recorded under the most chaotic settings. My favorite Stones album, Beggar's Banquet is no exception. Apparently, Jones was stoned the whole time either a total recluse or an obnoxious jerk. His playing was inaudible. There were times that other band members turned his amp down and let Richards play alone on a track. They let such guitarists like Ry Cooder play his pieces in later sessions. With the tempers flaring not only over his behaviour, but his problems with drugs was making it difficult for the band to turn the States, they forced him out of the band. They replaced him with Mick Taylor from John Mayall's Bluebreakers. He was found dead face-first in his pool within the year.