Sunday, April 20, 2014

Dylan, "Desire" and the (other) Story of Hurricane: A Lesson In Fatherhood

Reading of the death of former pro boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter today awoke an old memory which reminded me how lucky I was to have, what in retrospect, was a pretty cool father.  I should add by "cool" I do not mean some kind of "over the hill hipster" who, in a desperate attempt at trying to stay relevant smokes pot or acts in some other immature, out of character way.  No, I merely mean a father, that despite whatever busy schedule he may have, when he senses that something is of importance, at least to his kid, takes the time to listen and if possible, act on his child's request or concern.

The time was the mid-late70's (circa 1976-77) and my father had a new job working for the LEAA after years working as chief counsel of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee and later as a staff counsel for the full judiciary committee.  The Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) was a short-lived U.S. federal agency within the Justice Department.  It administered federal funding to state and local law enforcement agencies, and funded educational programs, research, state planning agencies and local crime initiatives.  My father really had no qualifications for working for the LEAA other than being one of the principal authors of the Senate's Amendment to the Omnibus Crime Control Act and needing a job.

At the time I was a long haired, anti-establishment teenager with a new favorite lp, Bob Dylan's "Desire".  My motivation for purchasing this album was the wordy but endearing protest song which was the album's featured single, "Hurricane" written by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy:

Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night
Enter Patty Valentine from the upper hall
She sees the bartender in a pool of blood
Cries out, “My God, they killed them all!”
Here comes the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For somethin’ that he never done
Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world
Three bodies lyin’ there does Patty see
And another man named Bello, movin’ around mysteriously
“I didn’t do it,” he says, and he throws up his hands
“I was only robbin’ the register, I hope you understand
I saw them leavin’,” he says, and he stops
“One of us had better call up the cops”
And so Patty calls the cops
And they arrive on the scene with their red lights flashin’
In the hot New Jersey night
Meanwhile, far away in another part of town
Rubin Carter and a couple of friends are drivin’ around
Number one contender for the middleweight crown
Had no idea what kinda shit was about to go down
When a cop pulled him over to the side of the road
Just like the time before and the time before that
In Paterson that’s just the way things go
If you’re black you might as well not show up on the street
’Less you wanna draw the heat
Alfred Bello had a partner and he had a rap for the cops
Him and Arthur Dexter Bradley were just out prowlin’ around
He said, “I saw two men runnin’ out, they looked like middleweights
They jumped into a white car with out-of-state plates”
And Miss Patty Valentine just nodded her head
Cop said, “Wait a minute, boys, this one’s not dead”
So they took him to the infirmary
And though this man could hardly see
They told him that he could identify the guilty men
Four in the mornin’ and they haul Rubin in
Take him to the hospital and they bring him upstairs
The wounded man looks up through his one dyin’ eye
Says, “Wha’d you bring him in here for? He ain’t the guy!”
Yes, here’s the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For somethin’ that he never done
Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world
Four months later, the ghettos are in flame
Rubin’s in South America, fightin’ for his name
While Arthur Dexter Bradley’s still in the robbery game
And the cops are puttin’ the screws to him, lookin’ for somebody to blame
“Remember that murder that happened in a bar?”
“Remember you said you saw the getaway car?”
“You think you’d like to play ball with the law?”
“Think it might-a been that fighter that you saw runnin’ that night?”
“Don’t forget that you are white”
Arthur Dexter Bradley said, “I’m really not sure”
Cops said, “A poor boy like you could use a break
We got you for the motel job and we’re talkin’ to your friend Bello
Now you don’t wanta have to go back to jail, be a nice fellow
You’ll be doin’ society a favor
That sonofabitch is brave and gettin’ braver
We want to put his ass in stir
We want to pin this triple murder on him
He ain’t no Gentleman Jim”
Rubin could take a man out with just one punch
But he never did like to talk about it all that much
It’s my work, he’d say, and I do it for pay
And when it’s over I’d just as soon go on my way
Up to some paradise
Where the trout streams flow and the air is nice
And ride a horse along a trail
But then they took him to the jailhouse
Where they try to turn a man into a mouse
All of Rubin’s cards were marked in advance
The trial was a pig-circus, he never had a chance
The judge made Rubin’s witnesses drunkards from the slums
To the white folks who watched he was a revolutionary bum
And to the black folks he was just a crazy nigger
No one doubted that he pulled the trigger
And though they could not produce the gun
The D.A. said he was the one who did the deed
And the all-white jury agreed
Rubin Carter was falsely tried
The crime was murder “one,” guess who testified?
Bello and Bradley and they both baldly lied
And the newspapers, they all went along for the ride
How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool’s hand?
To see him obviously framed
Couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land
Where justice is a game
Now all the criminals in their coats and their ties
Are free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise
While Rubin sits like Buddha in a ten-foot cell
An innocent man in a living hell
That’s the story of the Hurricane
But it won’t be over till they clear his name
And give him back the time he’s done
Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world

Like any teenager with a new record, "Desire" was in heavy rotation and much like the songs off my early Springsteen collection, "Hurricane" was one of those songs you had to memorize the lyrics to.  (My poor parents!)  So after about a month of this constant barrage I honestly can't remember who approached whom, whether I asked my Dad or Dad came to me and said something like"...if you just stop playing that damn song, I'll see what I can find out...".  Which ever it was, in retrospect it was pretty damn cool of the old man and I know it did not win him many friends at his new job poking around this subject with state and federal law enforcement officials.

Out of respect to the friends and family of Mr. Carter and in all fairness, I will not repeat the hearsay my father reported back to me other than to confirm the early acknowledgment by those in law enforcement (F.B.I.) of serious problems with the State's case.  The thing that is important to me today, some 15 years after my father's passing, is what a cool thing that was for my Dad to do for his son.  RIP Rubin.  I'm so glad you got out of that cell. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Mats to Play Minneapolis at Target Field: Hold All Rainchecks.

Speculation has been swirling like snowflakes this past week in the Mill City as to when the Mats will make their long awaited return home to play a concert.  Well the wait may soon be over.

One does not have to be a Guy Noir to know that the key to solving any mystery in America is follow the money.  Where is the money these days in the music industry?  For artists, it sure as hell isn't in music sales, whether cds or digital downloads, the cut taken by distributors and platforms leave just a pittance for the people who created it.  No, the gold lies in licensing your bands name for a line of clothing and needless bobbles and shiny objects that can be sold online and at your shows.

A quick google for the band name that gave Minneapolis its well deserved reputation as the home of the post punk, pre Grunge sound leads you to a slick commercial website complete with a link for concert dates and a store.  Do ya think a summer tour is in the offing?  Does it snow in Minneapolis in the Spring time?

I learned long ago that marketing foreshadowed the direction where a for profit organization was headed.  Remember the Minnesota North Stars?  Remember that piece of shit shopping mall developer from North of the border, Norm Green?  As soon as he rebranded the team that was the Star of the North to simply the Stars, I knew the jig was up.

Now before I start hearing all the pink Mohawks and safety pin faces who were 10-15 years too young to ever be part of the original scene screaming "sell out", hey kiddies I got news for you, that ship sailed long ago.  Riotfest wasn't about live aid and Coachella ain't exactly the 7th Street Entry or CBGBs.  Hell I commend the guys for reforming for a noble purpose, helping Slim and I begrudge no one for making a living.

It's just that you cannot read t-shirts like they're tea leaves.  Leave the amateur prognosticating to the professional grifters like palm readers and politicians and take this to the bank:

The Replacements are NOT going to play Target Field despite the 3/4 length baseball tee with 1960's Twins styling.

No, it doesn't take a Sid Genius to figure out that the corporate shills that got Minnesotans to pay for the wealthiest owner in baseball's stadium with public money, whose red neck idea of "Muzak" is Kenny Cheesedick are not ever, in any lifetime, going to let the band whose next album is tentatively titled "Feculent" desecrate their hallowed "Field of Mediocrity".  And that's the truth! PBBBBBLLLLLLTTTTTTTTTT!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Living in America: I Feel Good

I am extremely happy to report to that my cousin Phil, who provided me my middle name, and was a decorated corpsman in the Vietnam War, had successful kidney transplant surgery down in Phoenix this past weekend. That makes the third successful recipient which combined with two living related donors, a total of 5 successful kidney transplant operations for my extended family.  Only in the United States could this be possible.  Just a reminder to be grateful that you are living in America.  I feel good.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Tales of a Road Dog The Lowdown Along the Blues Highway by must read for fans! Get book & music

Alejandro Escovedo: The Artist of the Millenium & "Sensitive" Boys Deliver at the Dakota

"That's it!  I give up.  No Mas! No Mas!   I am never going to see a better live performance so I might as well stop..."

I have been telling myself this after attending almost every one of Alejandro's shows ever since my brother dragged me to my first Alejandro show at the 4oo Bar on Minneapolis' funky West Bank back in the late 90s.  Having very particular tastes in music, I can be like a mule sometimes when it comes to going out to see something new live.  However on this occasion I was somewhat intrigued by all the hype I had heard through the musical grapevine, specifically a little known industry magazine which had anointed some guy named Escovedo "Artist of the Decade".

 "Yeah right..." I thought to myself.   I had heard it all many times before.  Ever since Jon Landau famously wrote his "I saw the Future of Rock and Roll" review, many artists would be burdened with similar hyperbole, but really, no one had been right since then... .But then again, what if like Landau they're right?   Little did I know how much that show would change my life.

Fast forward a couple decades and I am reading an interview with AE in this week’s City Pages.  Someone or thing with the moniker Gimme Noise is asking the questions and was evidently so unfamiliar with Al's current work that it actually asked the following:

Gimme Noise:
I think folks are stoked about seeing you at a more intimate kind of space like the Dakota. Will it be some of your mellower stuff? You playing solo at all?

"Mellower stuff"'?  "Playing solo"?  Gimme Noise you can thank your lucky stoked stars that you didn't try and peddle that line  to the AE of old, cuz it wouldn't have been pretty.  Instead the older, healthier, wiser, kinder and a most grateful AE lets his music make the statement and then practically, no literally apologized (mockingly) between songs, dead panning:  "Are we playing too loud for you?"  Despite a resounding "Nooooo" from the folks supposedly Stoked for something mellow, "I'm sorry...a faux earnest AE continues "...but that's how we play!"   But wait, I get ahead of myself and this show is deserving of a blow by blow description if there ever was one.

Taking the stage to the strains of the late great No Show Jones and "He Stopped Loving Her Today" Alejandro emerged onto the stage dressed dapper as always from his jet black, well-coiffed, hair (hair so thick I would kill for) down to his pointy black Beatles boots.  Waiting as if out of respect until George's song is nearly done, and after one last minute instruction the band starts with a faint, haunting beat that builds into "Can't Make Me Run", a song about drawing your line in the sand, standing your ground for love, off of his latest release Big Station.   For the "Don’t give up on Love" call and response towards the end of the song,  AE switched over to a dispatcher's mic, most commonly associated with harp players, to get a distorted, disemboweled sound fitting of the song's sentiment.

The next number, "Tender Heart" off his previous album Street Songs of Love is one of many songs AE has written over the years with the great Chuck Prophet and continues the relationship theme with the song's protagonist asking the musical question "I got a dream do you want to be in my dream?"

Next up was one of my faves off the new record "Bottom of the World" about how Austin, like any place, changes (all the California License plates) but hopefully never to become another, God forbid, Houston.  Alejandro asked if there were any people in the crowd from Houston and then said in advance he was sorry, not for the sentiment of the song but for them being from Houston.  I get it completely.  In my line of work I deal with a lot of big firm attorneys out of Houston and whenever I proclaim my love of Austin to them, more than one has made the comment :  "Do you know what we refer to Austin as down here in Texas?  320 square miles surrounded by reality".  I could not agree more with the sentiment conveyed in "Bottom of the World" with its disdain for Houston and its overemphasis on  money and the superficial and their need to denigrate the good people of Austin.  Touché.

Speaking of bottoming out, in his introduction to "Bottom of the World"  Alejandro told the first of several hilarious stories.  AE told about playing Minneapolis many times over the years and back in his early days staying at a "seedy hotel by the bus station", Minneapolis' version of the Chelsea, my words not his.  (I think he was referring to either the Inn Towne motel and its seedy Hubcap Lounge or the  Seville Hotel above Red's Roost Bar, all three establishments long defunct).  AE told about the time he checked in to a room there only to find a still lit cigarette in the ashtray, still warm bath water drawn in the tub and still warm takeout pizza box.  But the worst thing he ever saw at this hotel was Slash doing his laundry while wearing Daisy Duke short shorts.  It gives you the willies just thinking about it.

 AE then masterly slowed things down a bit with the beautiful “San Antonio Rain” a lush, slow burn number also off of Big Station.  Next up was “Sensitive Boys” and AE’s funniest introduction of the night.  AE told a story about a trip to Minneapolis very early in his career (I believe 1987) with his then band the True Believers (which band also featured his little brother Javier)  to play a Cinco De Mayo show warming up for Los Lobos at First Avenue.  Arriving in town early, the True Believers picked up a gig the night before in downtown Minneapolis.   The next day at the Cinco De Mayo show he met the headline act and drummer Louie Perez tells him that the night before they had witnessed the worst Country Western band they had ever seen/heard, you guessed it, the band the great Louie Perez was referring to was the True Believers.  Ouch!

Following "Sensitive Boys" AE and the songs namesakes played an autobiographical song from his Hand of the Father project, "Wave" before which he reminded the audience of his family's history, his musician grandfather and how his father ended up in Texas from Mexico.  It was while working the fields in Texas that Alejandro's grandmother would make up stories about the people in the passing trains and how they would pretend they knew them and wave to them. AE also told the story of when, as just a child, his parents abruptly pulled up stakes for a "vacation" to California (where they worked in the fields) eventually winding up in Huntington Beach, never to return to their pets and belongings back in Texas.  It is a poignant story that you can tell still affects him to this day.

Ever aware of pacing and dynamics, AE followed the heartfelt with some "Rock and Roll" with a Ramones like cadence to the chorus on "Castanets" but with the blistering guitar that is the songs signature.   Alejandro described "Castanets" as being about architecture...("I liked her better when she walked away")  Following the title track to his latest album, Big Station, was a particularly invigorated version of the staple "Everybody Loves Me But I Don't know why".  Maybe at one time, but the "moody little bastard" as one promoter once described him, always makes a point each show to genuinely thank those in the online community and others that helped defray his medical bill following his near death experience a few years back in Arizona (also title to song about the long struggle back, which he also played).  But every once in a while a little bit of the punk rock cynicism slips out and he lets off a zinger like his Lady Gaga reference (shit!) from the previously mentioned interview by Stokely Carmichael for Gimme Noise or like during the band introduction when someone yelled out "Who are you?" and without missing a beat he quipped back "Huey Lewis".

The last song before encores was an absolutely stunning version of Young's "Like a Hurricane".  The dueling guitar work between Alejandro and Jon Sanchez, an absolutely phenomenal guitarist from Baton Rouge who makes it look so effortless.  Rounding out the band was the rhythm section with always solid Bobby Daniels on bass and top notch and in demand Austin drummer, Matt Strmiska.  Alejandro came back alone to give a dedication to recently deceased Stooges drummer Scott Asheton before delivering a moving version of "Sister Lost Soul" his homage to all his fellow music travelers who are no longer with us. The band was then brought back up for the evenings closer, a raucous version of the Tom Waits’ "Goin' Out West"* inviting the audience to join in "I'm goin' out west where I belong, Where the days are short and the nights are long..." but never long enough when it's Alejandro and his Sensitive Boys!

Set List Dakota Jazz Bar 3/30/201

(Tape:  He Stopped Loving Her Today)

Can't Make Me Run
Tender Heart
Bottom of the World hotel slash mt room ch smoke pizza
Rain San Antonio
Sensitive boys (Cinco de Mayo Louie Los Lobos worst true believes)
Big station
Everybody loves me
Like a hurricane
Sister lost soul
California Sun*(Correction:  Tom Waits' "Goin out West" but hey I'm Human)
John Sanchez
Bobby Daniel
Matt schrimsca
Who r u Huey Lewis
Sent from my iPod