Wednesday, April 13, 2011

From "Sitting In Limbo" to "Many Rivers to Cross": Dems Save CPB and NPR In Real Cliff Hanger

Shortly following the near shutdown of the Federal Government last week, the entertainment industry weekly Variety reported that:

"The eleventh-hour budget deal that averted a government shutdown spares the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio, as it was among the policy riders dropped in the final deal, according to the Daily Caller. House Republicans had voted to eliminate funding for CPB and restrict government money for NPR, but they were given little chance of making it into the final legislation. The deal that was reached on Friday is to fund the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year, but Democrats fought against a number of "add ons" that restricted funding for Planned Parenthood and for new EPA regulations."

So when I awoke from my Saturday Night Live snooze last weekend just in time to change my channel back to PBS for tpt's broadcast of Austin City Limits, I got down on my knees to thank the Democrats for what ensued. As any fan of American music knows, Austin City Limits has been the oasis of taste in the desert of music mediocrity that is popular culture in America and the world today.

My first experience with Austin City Limits dates back to the mid-70's while on the annual summer vacation road trip with my parents. We were staying in a cheap motor lodge somewhere in the southwest and as best as I can recollect, my father must have sprung for a separate room for my brother and I. While flipping through the handful of broadcast stations I came upon a mild looking middle-aged man with a natural wood finished Fender who proceeded to put on one of the greatest exhibitions of guitar playing I had ever witnessed. The man was the legendary Roy Buchanan and it was one of the earliest episodes of a little known PBS music show originating out of its Austin Texas affiliate. The rest as they say is history.

Over the years Austin City Limits has brought some of the greatest music performers in the world into the living rooms of America. Besides the aforementioned performance by Roy Buchanan, other memorable shows that immediately come to mind include Delbert McClinton, Alejandro Escovedo, Van Morrison as well as countless others. However, I must say that ranking right up there in my mind has to be Jimmy Cliff and his incredible band's performance which kicked off the show's 2010 season. Since the passing of Bob Marley some 34 years ago, no other Reggae singer songwriter has come close to the greatness that was Bob...with the possible exception of Mr. Cliff. Now I do not profess to be some great student of Reggae music, some white wannabe poser in dreadlocks. Hell I'm a bald, middle aged white guy with two left feet. I'm also somewhat of a music snob in that I only like one of two kinds of music, as Louis Armstrong would say (and I paraphrase), the "good" kind. And it don't get any better than Jimmy Cliff's Austin City Limits performance.

Very much still on top of his game and backed by one of the crack bands in all of Reggae, Cliff came bounding out on stage dressed in what looked like Cincinnati Bengal's wide mouth receiver, Ocho Cinco's leisure suit. Opening with "Wonderful World, Beautiful People", Cliff quickly got down to business strapping on a guitar for the only time of the night and launching into the first of the shows many highlights, a stunningly beautiful rendition of one of his greatest songs, "Sitting In Limbo". From there it was non-stop pulsating rhythms. "Rebel,Rebel, Rebel", the call and response of "One More" and a great rework of the war protest anthem "Vietnam", now "Afghanistan".

Next came the title track to the Citizen Kane of all Reggae movies, "The Harder They Come" which unfortunately brings to mind my only slight criticism of the show, which was his sharing the stage for this number with one barefoot wannabe, Michael Franti, whoever the hell he is. My only comment is I can see why he can't afford shoes.

Other highlights included his signature piece, "Many Rivers to Cross" (which gave me goose bumps), a cover of the Johnny Nash hit "I Can See Clearly Now" and the show ending drum circle of "Bongo Man" complete with sample of "Rivers of Babylon" by the Melodians.

All in all this was music history and we have only Austin City Limits, PBS and the Democrats to thank for it, which is reason enough to vote the Republicans and Tea Baggers the hell out next election. Jah Man!

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