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074: Donovan, ‘House of Jansch’

Posted by jeff on Aug 14, 2016 in Rock, Song Of the week

To my utter chagrin, a couple of my erstwhile acquaintances have recently been bad-mouthing Donovan, and them’s fighting words for me. Yeah, yeah, I know, hippie-dippie, limpid, Dylan wannabe, yadda-yadda. They know not of what they speak. Donovan Leitch is one fine artist, with an admirably muscular aesthetic that his maligners would easily recognize if they’d just lay aside their preconceptions for a moment and listen to the right music.

The “Rolling Stone Record Guide” says, “Listening to Donovan’s albums is like being consigned to relive the most insipid parts of the Sixties. Pretentious falderal.” Gee, he should listen to the music before he writes. And if he did, he should stop writing.

I wrote a very similar lament about the very widespread misapprehension of James Taylor, so many people judging him by his Greatest Hits. Why would anyone let the record companies choose what songs of an artist to listen to? Okay, I do so on occasion for initial exposure, but I certainly wouldn’t stop there, not with a serious artist. Donovan may not be an artist of JT’s breadth, depth or stature, but there’s some stunning stuff beyond the best-known dozen.

Donovan Leitch (b. 1946, Glasgow) broke onto the charts in 1965 as ‘the British Dylan’, with some very fine sensitive-soft acoustic neo-folk hits, ‘Catch the Wind’, ‘Colors’. But even on his first two LPs, the gems were hidden underneath these hits. Try ‘Sunny Goodge Street’, a dreamy jazz/folk amalgam years ahead of its time.

Then came the two big hits, ‘Sunshine Superman‘ and ‘Mellow Yellow’, each of them charming or annoying, depending on your mood (or State Of Mind, as it were). For me, the charm certainly wore off by the 3-millionth listen.

Not so with the LPs that spawned them. Each album contains ten songs, with nary a dud among them. Both are beautiful, intelligent, solid and memorable. Both are drug-inspired, but there’s not a vapid, self-indulgent note in either. Each song is finely crafted, with a hard core of intelligent artistry.

After these two albums Donovan went on to record more hits (‘There Is a Mountain’, ‘Lalena’, ‘Atlantis’), and then to wallow through decades consigned to the periphery. But he did some fine, fine work, and deserves to be remembered for that.

Wannabe and Is

Much of the credit for the sheer beauty of the sound “Sunshine Superman” and “Mellow Yellow” must go to producer Mickie Most. I’m not usually one to rave about studioship, but the recording here is a work of art in itself. Every instrument, every sound, is a pleasure to listen to – especially Donovan’s acoustic guitar itself. The sitar is employed far more convincingly than any contemporary, including George Harrison. Strings and brass embellish the palette with the greatest of restraint and the finest of taste. The acoustic bass and brushed drums are often employed even on the grittier cuts, providing an utterly entrancing mix of jive and resonance. (Give a listen to how ‘Sunshine Superman’ mixes acoustic and electric sounds so effectively.) Admittedly, these are sounds created in and for a marijuana cloud. But they stand just as tall and proud in the clear light of day, almost half a century later.

And the songwriting is no less impressive. Need one list all the overblown, underthought, pompous and fluffy music to float out of other people’s trips? The themes here are paisley, no doubt. But they are also tough and funny. And for all their innocent veneer, there is much more than a tempering drop of cynicism distinguishing them from hippie bagatelles. In these two albums, Donovan is always limpid, never limp.

Take for example ‘House of Jansch’, a tribute to folk/jazz legend Bert Jansch (pronounced ‘Yansh’), partner of John Renbourne in Pentangle.

It’s based on a fun, off-beat acoustic guitar riff with a seventh jabbing you in the chest at the end of the sentence. The cast includes ye olde standup bass, percussion provided solely by brushes on cymbals, a flute or two and a saxophone, and what I think is a celeste, which is a keyboard version of the glockenspiel (but I’m not betting the family farm on that one.)

Don’t ask me what the song ‘means’, I have no idea. Just sit back, take a toke or not, and enjoy the trip.

 

Girl ain’t nothing but a willow tree
Swaying in a summer breeze,
You’ll never change what has to be.
Girl ain’t nothing but a willow tree.

 

Sometimes I don’t know what I said till I did,
I want to be the father of your kid.
Dragonfly he sleeps till dawn,
I knew I’d be here when love has gone.

 

Crystal ball is what I wish for you,
Get it straight, I love the both of you.
Someone’s goin’ through a cold turkey.
Girl ain’t nothing but a willow tree.

 

 

I give your baby a contact high
I love another is what I sigh -ha-
Looks like rain, I do declare,
Your baby wants to take my chocolate eclair.

 

I couldn’t cry, I could not laugh,
Incident about a silken scarf.
I know what a jealous trip can be.
Girl ain’t nothing but a willow tree.

 

For your further listening edification:

From the sitarish, trip-drenched “Sunshine Superman’: the seemingly carefree ‘Ferris Wheel‘ (with the warning “Take time and tie your pretty hair, the gypsy driver doesn’t care if you catch your hair in the ferris wheel’); the hippie-hipster ‘Bert’s Blues‘, ultra-cool but replete with baroque strings. Or even one of the weaker cuts, the soon-to-be standard (Kooper-Bloomfield-Stills Super Session, Vanilla Fudge, Brian Auger)  ‘Season of the Witch‘.

From the brassier and brasher “Mellow Yellow”: the allegory-laden ‘Three King Fishers‘ (the bongo/sitar/violin/acoustic guitar combination in the break is worth the price of admission); “, the naked, harrowing ‘Young Girl Blues‘; the recreation of a trip in minor in ‘Sand and Foam‘.

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1

243: Ricky Nelson, “I’m Walkin'”

Posted by jeff on Aug 5, 2016 in Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

hqdefaultRicky Nelson, ‘I’m Walkin’

Ricky Nelson, ‘I’m Walkin’ (from “The Ozzie and Harriet Show” episode “Ricky The Drummer” at 08:00)

Don’t hold your breath waiting for a Ricky Nelson revival. He ain’t Buddy Holly. He certainly ain’t Elvis Presley. Heck, he ain’t even Pat Boone (albeit arguably).

He was a mediocre musician who had 53 Top 100 hits between 1957 and 1973, 20 of them in the Top 20; an inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; and one of TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time. Ricky Nelson is one of the most important singers in the annals of popular culture.

More importantly, he’s a crucial element in understanding post WWII American (i.e. world) popular culture. I’ll take that a step further. You can’t understand popular culture without understanding the Ricky Nelson story.

rockwellRicky was born in 1940, second son of big-band leader Ozzie and singer Harriet Nelson. Ozzie’s orchestra was featured on the hit radio show “The Raleigh Cigarette Hour” from 1941 till host Red Skelton was drafted in 1944. The producers then crafted the sitcom “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” (we’re still talking radio, folks) in its stead. It was a hit, with head writer Ozzie spinning tales of Rockwellian domestic bliss. In 1949, Rick and brother Dave (two years older) joined the show, replacing the actors who had portrayed them till then.

In 1952, “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” debuted, running until 1966, one of the longest-running sitcoms in TV history. Many of the series’ story lines were taken from the Nelsons’ real life. When the real David and Rick got married, their partners were written into the series as their girlfriends and then wives.

Ozzie, Harriet, David, Ricky in 1952 Could The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet have really been like that? Could the show have lasted all those years - some 22 seasons from its debut in 1944 on radio to its cancellation - offering nothing more relevant than programs titled "David Has a Date with Miss Universe" and "A Picture in Rick's Notebook"?

As a tween, Rick fiddled around on clarinet, guitar and drums. At 16, he was dating a teenie-bop Elvis fan. On an impulse, he told her that he was going to make a record in order to impress her. He went home and said to Ozzie, “Dad, I want to make a record.” (Unfortunately, that didn’t make it as an episode on the show.)

Already a fan of Carl Perkins and Elvis, Rick went into the studio and covered Fats Domino’s ‘I’m Walking’ (it contained the only two chords he knew how to play). He was following the pattern set by the likes of Pat Boone, who carved a great career by bleaching raunchy, authentic Black music for the lily-white audiences of mainstream radio. The original versions were thought to be too sexually suggestive for the impressionable white audiences, and were confined to de facto segregated R&B radio stations and sales charts.

 

Here’s Fats’ original ‘Ain’t That a Shame’, and Pat Boone’s version (both 1955).

Here’s Fats live in 1956.

Here’s Fats’ original ‘I’m Walkin’’ and Ricky Nelson’s very first recording (both 1957).

Just for fun (hey, what’s it been up till now??), here are Fats and Ricky singing it together, years on.

83513-74037Ozzie knew a meal ticket when he saw one. In a 1957 episode titled “Ricky the Drummer”, the lad sits in on drums with a swing band (at around 06:00). He does a creditable job, though he’s no Sammy Davis, Jr. Then at 08:00, he sings ‘I’m Walkin’’ (live). Check out the girl in the audience squealing. It hit #4 on the charts. The flip side, ‘A Teenager’s Romance’, hit #2.

Shortly after, he made an unpaid public appearance (singing “Blue Moon of Kentucky”) with the Four Preps at a high school lunch hour assembly in Los Angeles. He was greeted by hordes of screaming teens who had seen the television episode.

Thunder on the horizon.

Here you have it folks. The very first bud of spring. The first step of youth culture across network television’s Rubicon. The beginning of the end of the coherent, conservative mom & dad and two kids in the suburbs America. The beginning of the beginning of the cultural revolution we’re still in the throes of.

hqdefault (1)If you’ve ever heard of “The Ozzie and Harriet Show”, it’s probably as the icon of 1950s America—the world of Eisenhower, mortgages and Fords and good clean family living. Then came James Dean and Elvis Presley and Lee Harvey Oswald and the Nixon Doctrine in Vietnam. For baby boomers–Bob Dylan, Steven Spielberg, Bill Clinton–the Nelsons symbolized the Age of Innocence.

When asked to explain ‘The 60s’, I often tell the story of how I (and my entire generation) waited for Ricky in the 1950s (which actually lasted until November 22, 1963). We were kids, and we watched a lot of TV. But none of it was real. It was Republicans in white boxer shorts peddling their idyllic version of suburban bliss which just didn’t convince us. We wanted some grit. If you need a refresher, go rewatch “Rebel Without a Cause.”

najlepszy-westernNetwork TV was the medium for America’s self-portraiture. In 1957, it was as bland as Wonder Bread with Oleo. But every two or three weeks, at the end of an episode of “Ozzie and Harriet”, they’d let Ricky sing a song. We’d sit and wait, impatiently subjecting ourselves to what even in our tweens we perceived as the inanities of the show.

As soon as his singing career began to take off, he had the good sense to jettison his older jazz and country session musicians (who were openly contemptuous of rock and roll) and sign a band with members closer to his age, including the 18-year-old James Burton. Elvis was in the army, and the market was thirsty for ‘A Teenage Idol’ (his not-so-convincing attempt at poorlittlerichboy angst). Six years later we’d get ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’. Ricky’s song contains the line ‘I guess I’ll always be just a rolling stone.’ Ah, the irony.

Even though it was the only game in town and despite its commercial success, Ricky’s music was nothing to write home about. Here are a few of his hits as performed on his parents’ TV show—arguably the very first musical video clips.

Traveling Man’ — Check out Ozzie’s snazzy editing! This has been called ‘the first video clip’.

ricky-nelson-james-burtonHello Mary Lou’ — Perhaps plagiarized by the fine Gene Pitney (who also wrote Bobby Vee’s ‘Rubber Ball‘ and The Crystals’ ‘He’s a Rebel‘ and was the first American champion of The Rolling Stones). After “Hello Mary Lou” became a hit, legal action was taken by one Cayet Mangiaracina, who was then listed as a co-writer along with Pitney. Mangiaracina became a priest and claimed to give royalties from the song to the Southern Dominican Province near New Orleans, where he served. Pitney never spoke of Mangiaracina or the lawsuit.

Gypsy Woman’, not to be confused with the sublime ‘Gypsy Woman’ by Curtis Mayfield’s Impressions.

Stood Up’ — co-written  by Sharon Sheeley, whose very first song, ‘Poor Little Fool‘, was Ricky’s first #1 hit. She survived the car wreck in which her boyfriend Eddie Cochran was killed.

In 1959 he starred next to John Wayne, Walter Brennan and Dean Martin in Howard Hawkes’ classic “Rio Bravo”.

In 1961, on his 21st birthday, he legally changed his name from ‘Ricky’ to ‘Rick’. Few were convinced.

After a few minor hits, failed marriages, and a very successful run on the oldies circuit, Ricky (sorry, he’ll always be Ricky for me) died when his private plane crashed near De Kalb, Texas, on December 31, 1985.

Some critics have tried to rehabilitate Ricky’s musical reputation in recent years. They’re confusing good will with good music. Give a listen to Buddy Holly, his contemporary and stylistic cousin in those years of 1957-59. The difference is as great as the distance from Hollywood to Mars.

But I remember Ricky fondly. He may not have been the best, but he was the first. He single-handedly opened television to young music. Yes, Elvis had appeared on the Milton Berle and Ed Sullivan shows in 1956, but only as a curiosity (some said an aberration, the devil incarnate). Ricky was the first widely acceptable rock and roll singer, the harbinger of the Woodstock generation, the first crack in The Wall, the prototype of the world we still live in today.

Thanks for being understanding parents, Harriet and Ozzie. Thanks for being such a good big brother, Dave. Thanks for doing what you did, Ricky. It was well worth that half-hour wait.

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242: Dhafer Youssef, ‘Les Ondes Orientales’ (with Tigran Hamasyan)

Posted by jeff on Jul 29, 2016 in Jazz, Song Of the week

x_0e1c7b05‘Les Ondes Orientales’ (live video)

‘Odd Elegy’ (live video)

 ‘Hayastan Dance’ (studio)

Shatha’ (studio), with alternating measures of 5, 7, 11, 13, 17 and 19 beats, somehow swaying like a samba

Sura’ (studio)

Summer, 1968, I’m volunteering on a kibbutz in Israel. There’s a copy of “Sgt Pepper” (only a year old,  less of a household ikon than it is today). There’s a cool Indian guy on ulpan. He’s heard of The Beatles, but not of Sgt P. “You have to hear it!” I tell him. “George Harrison, the guitarist, plays sitar, and they use a tabla and a tamboura and stuff. They’re playing Indian music!”

Dhafer Youssef (14)I drag him. He listens attentively, lolling his head sagaciously. At the end he looks up with a big grin shiningly displaying his pearly teeth and chirps affirmingly “Rock and roll!

Since then, 48 years now, I’ve been very careful not to make assumptions or judgments in cultures (musics) whose basic vocabulary is foreign to me.

That being said, the Dhafer Youssef quartet, with Tigran Hamasyan on piano, creates the best music I’ve heard in years. If I gave grades, I would give it 100.

But if I can do it, so can you. It’s true that I live approximately midway between Tunisia and Armenia, but I speak neither language. I do speak some jazz, though, and have no difficulty following their quatralogue. Even if some of it is in an exotic accent. Who knows, perhaps due to that.

29-07-2016 12-41-51About a year and a half ago I wrote a post about Tigran Hamasyan in which I was rather overwhelmed by the breadth and variety of his musical projects. I’ve been listening to him ever since, of course, and this collaboration with Dhafer brings a critical point into clearer focus for me: Tigran Hamasyan is the most interesting jazz pianist working today. I say that having just seen a few weeks ago an thoroughly uninspired Brad Mehldau in concert (with John Scofield and Mark Guiliana— in retrospect, I should have stayed home and watched clips of the Dhafer Youssef-Tigran Hamasyan quartet.)

Guiliana there provided 5 minutes of interest with an electronic percussion solo in an otherwise soporific concert. Here, as the motor of Dhafer’s quartet, he’s solid liquid nitroglycerin, ready to explode at the merest pretext. No one sleeps on Mark Guiliana’s watch. If, like me, you usually find drummers a necessary evil and drum solos an unnecessary one, check out Guiliana here. He’s a brilliant, exciting musician, period.

4429451232_92fe607c93_zChris Jennings is the designated driver of the group – rock solid, Always Prepared, holding it all together. With three such volatile partners around him, you need a responsible, grounded adult.

Dhafer Youssef (b. 1967) grew up in a fishing village, from a long line of muezzins (leaders of prayer in the mosque). His grandfather exposed him to religious vocal music, which he practiced in his kitchen and refined in the cavernous hammam of the village. The resonances produced by his voice were his favorite toy.

He began singing with a local liturgical singing troupe, learned oud and then moved on to electric bass, playing at weddings and singing music from the radio in the traditional liturgical style. (Remind anyone of Ray Charles?) From the music conservatory in Tunis, he moved on to Paris and Vienna, where he’s been based since.

ad86f57229d126800af91dbc523ecHe recorded his first album in 1996, and since then has moved from project to project, each one exploring new territories, new sonorities, including the juxtaposition of the oud and northern European electronic-jazz textures.

From 2009-2012, his quartet was composed of Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan, Canadian bassist Chris Jennings and American drummer of everyone’s choice Mark Guiliana. Inspired by texts from the seventh century Persian poet known for his odes to wine, Abu Nawas, the collaboration produced a number of high-quality filmed performances, as well as the album “Abu Nawas Rhapsody” (2010).

Dhafer Youssef Quartet – ‘Abu Nawas Rhapsody’ (full concert)

Dhafer Youssef (10)His latest project is fascinating in itself. “Birds Requiem” takes a more Western, exploratory look at the Eastern materials. It employs an Estonian pianist, an incredible Turkish clarinetist, a British bassist, an Indonesian-Dutch drummer, a Norwegian rock-oriented guitarist, and a knockout virtuoso Turkish kanunist. Tigran’s latest, by the way, is “Luys i Luso”, an exploration of Armenian sacred music from the 5th through the 20th centuries, arranged for piano and chorus.

Both artists are well worth following in every project they do. But when they joined together, they reached a pinnacle, higher than Tunis’ Atlas Mountains, higher than Armenia’s Mt. Ararat (yes, the one where Noah got stuck), certainly higher than Mont Blanc. I urge you to take the time and have the patience to expose yourself to this quartet’s music at leisure. They make great, great music. I don’t give out 100’s lightly.

They can be just purely entertaining, providing unadulteratedly pleasurable, accessible-without-borders music. Like you can enjoy The Four Tops.
They can be emotionally wrenching, especially Dhafer’s vocal flights into nasal, hyper-falsetto stratospheres. Like Janis Joplin at her rawest, purest, most expressive.
They can be mindbogglingly, jawdroppingly dexterous, especially when Tigran gets that Keith Moon look in his eye and starts taking you places on the keyboard that no one’s ever been before.

dhafer_youssef_1_c_hassen_soufanTake for example ‘Les Ondes Orientales’ (‘Oriental Waves’). It begins with an oud/piano exposition, improvising on what will become the theme with utter gentleness, a warm group embrace. In the third minute it begins to accrue energy, then at about 4:20 begins to rock the theme a tempo.

At 5:30 Dhafer lays down the oud for his rubato vocal ‘solo’, backed by Tigran. The interplay between them half reminds me, surprisingly, of the legendary Bill Evans/Tony Benett duets. Nowhere else have I ever heard a pianist providing such eloquent support for a vocalist. But Dhafer ain’t singing ‘The Touch of Your Lips’. Check out the vocal climax at 8:45. Tony Benett never scaled those heights. And I’m not talking pitch.

The next section features Tigran. It is the finest piano trio music I’ve heard since Bill Evans died. Passionate, brilliant. At 12:30 Dhafer joins them to revisit the theme. It’s not George Harrison dabbling in sitar. It’s not pandering with exotica. It’s new, great music.

Dhafer: “Old meters are inspiring for me. It gives me the possibility to think the melody and bass line differently and opens doors. The most I hate in music is when it doesn’t groove. Old is really groove.”

Do yourself a favor, venture out of that old comfort zone, check out this quartet. Open your ears, I’ll betcha it’ll speak to you. Their language is universal – both within you and without you.

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4

241: John Sebastian, ‘Welcome Back’

Posted by jeff on Jul 15, 2016 in Personal, Rock, Song Of the week

Father and SonWelcome Back Kotter, opening credits

Big week coming up for me. Bigger than winning a million dollars in the lottery. Bigger than flying to the moon. Bigger than anything.

My son’s coming back home.

After seven years abroad, on various other sides of the world, N is coming back to the country where he was born, where his great-grandmother was born, where about a hundred generations ago all of his ancestors were born. Where we’ve all been waiting for him. Him and his wonderful wife (daughter in so much more than law) and his five wonderful children, each one of them bearing my grandfather’s name. Well, kind of, but that’s another Ellis Island story.

He’s going to be living 100 km away. Rather than 10,000. Two fucking zeros, in one fell swoop. There’s nothing in the world that could make me happier.

I think that’s cause for celebration. And since I don’t drink champagne on a Friday morning, I’m gonna share a song with you.

Kobi Nahmias: “Now Daddy will always be on my heart.”

Kobi Nahmias: “Now Daddy will always be on my heart.”

N’s motives for returning aren’t completely clear. He keeps his cards close to his chest. He had a great job out there in the diaspora, and he’s coming to a much-coveted one here. But that’s the vehicle, not the tenor. He chose to leave a situation devoutly to be desired by most sane people, in exchange for a cubbyhole in a crazy little corner of the craziest neighborhood in a patently crazy world.

I’m not quite clear just why he’s coming back. To tell the truth, I don’t think he is either. But since he’s never gotten around to explaining his motive (don’t look a gift son in the mouth), I guess I’m free to invent one for him:

Just to be near his dad.

I’m reminded of Kobi Nahmias, who played left midfielder for a 3rd division football club nearby. Kobi had his father’s portrait tattooed right on his left breast. It was the least he could do.

Ok, maybe I don’t expect my kid to go quite that far. You know, Leviticus 19:28 and all that.

But there are other models, musical ones.

Model I: To me he is ev’rything strong; no he can’t do wrong, my dad.

Donna_Reed_Show_1103Take, for example, Paul Peterson (b. 1945). Paul started out as a Mouseketeer, appeared in the 1958 film “Houseboat” as the son of Cary Grant and Sophia Loren (that’s some pair of genes!), then went on to find fame, fortune and family as Jeff (no relation) in eight seasons and decades of reruns in 1950s idyllic “Donna Reed Show”. He also shared the upstairs bathroom with his ‘sister’ Mary, Shelly Fabares, she who invented the tight cashmere sweater.

Following the success of TV turning Ozzie and Harriet’s son Ricky (Nelson) into a teenage singing idol, Donna’s real-life husband/producer of the show Tony Owen convinced both Shelly and Paul that they could sing. They were terrified, but he insisted. The result? Shelly’s #1 hit ‘Johnny Angel’, and Paul’s ‘She Can’t Find Her Keys’ and the iconic anthem of filial devotion, ‘My Dad’.

Model II: Just drop by when it’s convenient to, but be sure and call before you do.

IMG_4974

I engendered in my son a predilection for orange juice, a Van Dyke beard, and an appreciation of Randy Newman’s first album. His favorite? ‘So Long, Dad’:

Come and see us, Poppa, when you can
There’ll always be a place for my old man.
Just drop by when it’s convenient to
Be sure and call before you do.

Okay, it’s not Koby Nahmias, but he invited me to come whenever I want, didn’t he?

Model III: Welcome back to that same old place that you laughed about

A lot of energy has been invested over the years by those who know and love N speculating on his motives (not to mention his whereabouts). It’s a fruitless labor. He remains a sweet, eccentric, unique enigma.

hqdefaultPerhaps I’ll just resort to my internal data base’s default  Coming Home song, John Sebastian’s ‘Welcome Back’. It may not tell the whole story, but it sure reflects one aspect of my feelings and thoughts.

John (b. 1944) was of course the founder and leading force of The Lovin’ Spoonful (‘Do You Believe in Magic’, ‘Daydream’, ‘Summer in the City’, as well as another score of stunning pop poems). He’s always been one of my favorite artists. He was a pioneer of American rock (see SoTW 052, ‘Girl, Beautiful Girl’) and a major force in the rock world (he turned down an invitation to join Crosby, Stills, Nash and Sebastian). He’s one of the wittiest lyricists to come out of the world of rock (‘I could feel I could say what I want, I could nudge her and call her my confidante’). He’s an artist of sensitivity, depth and wisdom (see SoTW 098, ‘Younger Generation’).

He’s also a real mensch. At least his persona in his music is, and I’ve never heard anything to the contrary about him as a person.

imagesSebastian left The Spoonful in 1968, made a memorable spontaneous appearance at Woodstock in 1969, and released an uneven solo debut album in 1970, with help from friends and a few great songs (‘She’s a Lady’, ‘You’re a Big Boy Now’, ‘How Have You Been’).  But he got mired in contractual disputes, and his solo career has been one long downward spiral commercially. Fear not, John made a nice living investing in real estate, and seems to have followed a path of playing the kind of Jug Band and New Acoustic music that he loves.

In 1975, ABC was making a new sitcom tentatively entitled “Kotter”, about a former Sweathog (the remedial class in a lower-class Brooklyn high school) who returns to teach at the selfsame school, trying to try to rehabilitate the current class of idiots, led by Horshack, Boom Boom Washington, Juan Epstein, and Vinnie Barbarino (John Travolta’s breakout role).

armed-forces-ticke_1667099iSebastian was invited to write a theme song, and the producers liked it so much they renamed the show “Welcome Back Kotter”. The single went to #1. It was Sebastian’s swan song, but has occupied a warm and tender spot in my heart and that of many a nostalg, as only a Sebastian song can do.

The song even inspired a rap version. And while I’m here, I’m happy to have the opportunity to give a shout for the one other fine song in the album, ‘She’s Funny’, a charming, disarming paean to his lady’s sense of humor.

Every week for five seasons “Welcome Back, Kotter” had a happy ending. But life, Virginia, isn’t a sitcom. Coming back now after seeing The Big World (I mean that literally—the tales of N’s hair-raising and exotic odysseys may someday be told), I know the lad’s going to have a reality bath back in the old neighborhood. I do hope it’s a warm one.

Time will tell. Life, with its inevitable twists and turns, is never as simple as a Hollywood sitcom. But one thing I do know: when they tumble off that plane, all seven of them, they’re going to be welcomed back with the warmest embrace in this whole wide world.

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