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292: My 10 Life-Changing Albums

Posted by jeff on May 24, 2019 in Other, Personal, Song Of the week

Today’s the last day of my Facebook Album Challenge, during which I chose 10 albums, 1 per day, *which made an impact* on me. “Post cover, no explanation,” said the mission statement.

For some of you, that might be a whee little jaunt down memory lane. For an obsessive-compulsive music nerd baby-boomer like myself, it’s torture.

First of all, define your terms. The challenge has been floating around for a while, and it’s been painful for me to watch you lay folks (i.e., normal people with a Real Life) abuse the concept of “Top 10 Albums” so crassly.

You talk about your ten “favorite” albums? That just drives me batty. What the hell is that supposed to mean?

Your ten most loved albums?

Your ten most esteemed albums?

Your ten most listened-to albums?

Your ten most impactful albums?

Those are such different questions.

So as is my wont, I distilled the question down to “most life-changing” for the challenge.
And being the rule-abiding nerd that I am, I made no comments on my postings.
Guess what? I’ve held it in too long. Here comes.

#1 “Meet the Beatles”

For the excitement.

Do I really need to explain that I don’t think this is The Beatles greatest achievement? Or can you figure out that as a 15-year old boy, just like those dumb girls on the screen were screaming outwardly, so I was screaming inside, even as I watched them poker-faced?

128: The Isley Brothers, ‘Twist and Shout’

251: The Maysles Brothers, “The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit”

229: The Beatles: ‘I’ve Just Seen a Face’ (“Rubber Soul” at 50)

053: The Beatles, ‘In My Life’

214: The Beatles, ‘You’re Gonna Lose That Girl’

252: The Beatles, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’

207: The Beatles, ‘Rocky Raccoon’; and Bob Dylan, ‘Frankie Lee and Judas Priest’/’Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’

 

#2 “Another Side of Bob Dylan”

For opening my eyes.

Eight months and a million light years after the aforementioned, it was Dylan’s third album, the first one that I met in real time. I remember my head exploding, trying to grasp Bob Dylan. Fifty-five years later, I’m still working on it.

248: Bob Dylan, ‘You Ain’t Going Nowhere’

190: Bob Dylan, ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’

008: ‘I’ll Keep It With Mine’, Fairport Convention (Bob Dylan)

016: Bob Dylan, ‘Percy’s Song’

176: Chuck Berry, ‘Too Much Monkey Business’ (Bob Dylan, ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’)

201: Bob Dylan, ‘All Along the Watchtower’

126: Bob Dylan, ‘Tears of Rage’ (The Basement Tapes)

262: Bob Dylan, ‘Went to See the Gypsy’ (“Another Self-Portrait”)

087: Bob Dylan, ‘Black Diamond Bay’

204: Bob Dylan, ‘Idiot Wind’ (NY Sessions)

164: Bob Dylan, ‘Tangled Up in Blue

 

#3 The Beach Boys, “Pet Sounds”

For the unfathomable beauty.

I’ve been plumbing the depths of this album since it was released, and never grow tired of it, 52 years. Through the decades, over and over, I’ve listened to all 8 CDs of the bootlegged “Unsurpassed Beach Boys!” studio recordings, listening to how Brian built the tracks pulse by pulse, measure by measure, genius at every stroke. I’ve watched and rewatched all the Pet Sounds documentaries, and read all the books. I’ve listened through atomic earphones to every one of the dozen or so remastered versions, from duophonic to mono to stereo to whatever. That line in “Here Today” where the ukulele and the bass harmonica play in unison? I’ll let you know when I get tired of it.

230: The Beach Boys, ‘Here Today’ (“Pet Sounds” Unsurpassed Masters Vol. 14)

004: The Beach Boys, ‘Kiss Me Baby’

269: Brian Wilson, ‘Sandy’/’Sherri She Needs Me’/’She Says That She Needs Me’

158: Paul Simon, ‘Surfer Girl’

118: Brian Wilson, ‘Surf’s Up’ (“SMiLE”)

 

#4 Laura Nyro, “Eli & the 13th Confession”

For the holy spirit that filled her.

I fell in love with Laura the day I heard her, and will love her till the day I die.

This album has inspired me throughout my entire life. Still does.

036: Laura Nyro, ‘Sweet Blindness’ (“Eli & the 13th Confession”)

170: Laura Nyro, ‘Luckie’ (“Eli & the 13th Confession”)

202: Laura Nyro, ‘The Confession’

233: Laura Nyro, ‘And When I Die’

270: Laura Nyro, ‘Stoney End’ (Seattle Bootleg, 1971)

154: Laura Nyro, ‘Save the Country’

271: Laura Nyro, ‘Walk on By’ (Bootleg Collection)

 

#5 Bill Evans, “Live at the Village Vanguard”

For the aesthetic.

So passionate, so restrained.

So subtle, so intelligent, so refined. Rarely a week goes by without me listening to it.

060: The Bill Evans Trio, ‘Gloria’s Step’ from “Live at The Village Vanguard”

096: Bill Evans (solo), ‘Easy To Love’

244: Bill Evans/Miles Davis, ‘On Green Dolphin Street’

124: Bill Evans, ‘Nardis’

209: The Real Group: ‘Monica Vals’ (‘Waltz for Debby’)

 

#6 “James Taylor” (the Apple album)

For being my friend in the darkest hours.

James’ first album, the obscurity before “Sweet Baby James”. An 18 year old from a patrician family with a heroin addiction and a stay in a loony bin already under his belt. Remember how overwhelming the world was when you were 18? This album is unadulterated existential pain. “Road maps in a well-cracked ceiling.”

205: James Taylor, ‘Something’s Wrong’

112: James Taylor, ‘Yesterday’

056: James Taylor, ‘Secret O’ Life’

132: James Taylor, ‘Enough To Be On Your Way’

291: James Taylor, ‘Valentine’s Day’

136: James Taylor, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel – ‘Wonderful World’

046: James Taylor, “Never Die Young”

 

#7 The Swingle Singers, “Bach’s Greatest Hits”

For the doors it opened.

Their very first album. I bought it the day it hit arrived at Neumark’s in Swifton, captivated by the cover engraving. I was 14. It was my introduction to J.S. Bach, to vocal jazz, and to genre-busting. Still today the very sound of the album transports me to places long gone and places yet to be discovered.

139: The Swingle Singers, ‘On the 4th of July’ (James Taylor)

161, The Swingle Singers, ‘Sinfonia from Partita No.2 in C Minor’

 

#8 “The Buddy Holly Story”

For the honesty. And for the cool.

I was only 10 the day the music died. When I was 16, my sophisticated cousin took me to a bohemian bar in Cocoanut Grove, where the singer, one ‘Duane Storey’, performed an acoustic ‘Peggy Sue’. That performance is a centerpiece in the novel I’m currently engrossed in writing, 54 years later. Not to mention that Garcia and Weir and Lesh let me sing with them because I was the only one who knew the words to ‘That’ll Be the Day’.

070: Buddy Holly, ‘That’ll Be the Day’

155: Buddy Holly, ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’

002: Buddy Holly, ‘Learning the Game’

122: George Harrison (The Beatles), ‘You Know What to Do’ b/w Buddy Holly, ‘You’re the One’

 

 

#9 Lee Konitz, “Subconscious-Lee”

For proving that ice also burns.

He was brilliant at 17. He was brilliant at 50. And he is still brilliant today at 91. I own over a hundred Lee Konitz recordings. Every one of them contains the sound of surprise.

040: Lennie Tristano Quintet, ‘317 East 32nd’ (Live in Toronto 1952)

027: Lennie Tristano, ‘Wow’

037: Lee Konitz, ‘Alone Together’ (w. Charlie Haden & Brad Mehldau)

134: Lee Konitz, ‘Duende’

 

#10 Glen Gould, J.S. Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier”

To JSB for bringing order to a chaotic world.

To GG for going all the way.

Anyone can play notes. Gould makes them come alive. He taught me about engagément – in theater, in life.

Bach? I can’t imagine the world without Bach.

005: Glenn Gould, Toccata in Cm (J.S. Bach)

077: J.S. Bach, ‘The Art of The Fugue’ (The Emerson Quartet, ‘Contrapunctus 9’)

113: J.S. Bach, ‘Prelude to Suite #2 for Unaccompanied Cello’ (Casals)

 

 
13

132: James Taylor, ‘Enough To Be On Your Way’

Posted by jeff on Apr 10, 2019 in Personal, Rock, Song Of the week

James Taylor, ‘Enough To Be On Your Way’

This week was the twelfth anniversary of my only sister’s death, at 62, from lung cancer. She was a denizen of Marlboro country all those years, and succumbed to statistics. Madie was five years older than me, and I loved her dearly. Never, not once in our entire lives, did we fight. Not when we were kids, not when we were adults. As youngsters, we had the age and sex differences to keep us apart, and a mutual enemy to keep us together. As adults, there was a literal ocean between us. From 21, when I left the US, for almost 30 years, I saw her only a few times for a few days each. We would talk on the phone for a short time a couple of times a year, and exchange only sporadic aerograms.

She never came here to visit me in the life I made for myself. For many years it was logistically and financially impractical, and then she got sick. But I understand that she really didn’t want to come, so strongly did she resent my having moved to “the other side of the world”. She loved me simply and deeply and purely, as I did her. She wanted me near her on occasion, in the hard times, in the good times, as she went through her life. But I had removed myself, and she never overcame the resentment of that fact.

Then our folks started getting old, finances and costs changed, and I began visiting every year or two. We’d usually meet in Florida for the best part of a week, without spouses, just the organic family of dinosaurs. She and I would hide out on our parents’ veranda. She’d smoke her Marlboros, and we’d open our hearts to each other.

It was only  long after she’d passed away that I came to understand how she missed me, because that’s how I still miss her. She was the one person to whom I could open up completely unguardedly – one quarter stranger on a plane, one quarter twin personality, one half unadulterated love. Life goes on, with all its blessings and curses, with all its joys and disappointments, with all its tribulations and trials. There’s so much I want to share with that one person in the world through whose veins flowed the same blood as mine. Madie’s absence is a gaping void in my soul.

There’s a song that I associate with my sister’s death. That statement demands some justification. My love for my sister is bigger than any pop song. I don’t equate the depth of my love for her, or my sadness over her absence with dropping a quarter in a juke box. But there’s no denying that that which comes through the car radio is the soundtrack of our lives, as surely as the violinists in a Hollywood tearjerker manipulate our heartstrings. A pop song is just a pop song, and a life is a life. But in our real lives, the two are intertwined, each person with his own background accompaniment.

James Taylor is a few months older than me. I’ve been listening to him closely and attentively since we were 21. James was the second of five children of Trude and Ike Taylor. Ike was a patrician and a closet lush, dean of the Chapel Hill medical school who ran away on an expedition to Antarctica to stay drunk and avoid the real world. Alex Taylor was the firstborn of the five rebellious children, filling the role of convention-breaker and thus drawing the heaviest flack. James moved more comfortably into the role of singer-substance abuser after Alex had broken all the curfews. Alex named his firstborn after brother James, and James in turn wrote the swaddling nephew a lullaby called ‘Sweet Baby James’.  Alex himself was an unsuccessful singer, an accomplished drinker, rough and gruff and unsettled and loveable. In 1993, he died after sinking into a booze-induced coma.

L to R: Hugh, Livingston, Kate, James, Alex Taylor

Here’s a wonderful clip of that “fucked-up family“, the five Taylors singing James’ great song ‘Shower the People’. “Shower the people you love with love.” Boy, triter and truer words were never spoken.

‘Enough To Be On Your Way’ is James’ lament for his brother. “My brother Alex died in ’93 on (not for) my birthday. We all went down to Florida to say goodbye. The day after we flew home (the day after his cremation) a giant mother hurricane followed us north through the Carolina’s; trashing everything in its path and finally raining record rains on Martha’s Vineyard (home). In Paris, a year later I changed his character to a hippie chick named Alice and the location to Santa Fe; but my soulful older brother is still all over this song like a cheap suit.”


The sun shines on this funeral the same as on a birth
The way it shines on everything that happens here on Earth.
It rolls across the western sky and back into the sea
And spends the day’s last rays upon this fucked-up family.
So long old pal.

The last time I saw Alice she was leaving Santa Fe
With a bunch of round-eyed Buddhists in a killer Chevrolet.
Said they turned her out of Texas, yeah, she burned ’em down back home.
Now she’s wild with expectation on the edge of the unknown.

James Taylor: “The idea is of somebody who can’t get home, who can’t find home late in their lives. As you get older- and I’m pushing 50—you grasp that the loneliness of the human condition stems from a wholeness from which we seem separated. Consensus, just the sense of connection with other people, feels so great, and it motivates an awful lot of what we do. The more successful or thwarted you are as an isolated individual, the more you need reconnection.”

Oh it’s enough to be on your way
It’s enough just to cover ground
It’s enough to be moving on
Home, build it behind your eyes
Carry it in your heart
Safe among your own

They brought her back on a Friday night, same day I was born.
We sent her up the smoke stack and back into the storm.
She blew up over the San Juan mountains and spent herself at last.
The threat of heavy weather, that was what she knew the best.

It woke me up on a Sunday an hour before the sun.
It had me watching the headlights out on highway 591
‘Til I stepped into my trousers, ‘til I pulled my big boots on.
I walked out on the Mesa and I stumbled on this song.

James, Alex, Sweet Baby James, Kate Taylor

James made a rare slip in taste in a creating a video in which he portrays the details of this song literally—the old lover Alice (played by Barbara Hershey), the Moonies, the Chevy, the mesa—you get it all, premasticated and spoon-fed. I watched it once, and I’m sorry I did. The only thing it’s good for is to deplete the magic from a magical song. I’m not going to give you the link for it. Go find it yourself if you must.

James says the song is about striving for reconnection. Well, even that’s pinning it down too much for me. Those so-beautiful, so evocative lines – “Oh it’s enough to be on your way/It’s enough just to cover ground/It’s enough to be moving on.”–what do they evoke? Lots of sadness, lots of love, lots of regret, a very strong desire to find some reconciliation with the pain of the loss. I’d rather not parse it. The song is best left with its magic.  I’m best left with my love and my longing.

My  grandchildren are all good siblings, but they’re normal kids. When I see them squabble over whose turn it is to clear the table, say harsh words to each other, raise their voices in anger, I feel a physical pain in my gut. That most treasured gift of a sibling. Who can appreciate how precious it is?

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

046: James Taylor, “Never Die Young”

056: James Taylor, ‘Secret O’ Life’

112: James Taylor, ‘Yesterday’

291: James Taylor, ‘Valentine’s Day’

136: James Taylor, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel – ‘Wonderful World’

205: James Taylor, ‘Something’s Wrong’

139: The Swingle Singers, ‘On the 4th of July’ (James Taylor)

 

 

 

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13

290: Becca Kristovsky, ‘Bye Bye Baby Blues’

Posted by jeff on Jan 16, 2019 in Personal, Rock, Song Of the week

Becca Kristovsky — ‘Bye Bye Baby Blues’

My good old friend Becca Kristovsky died this week. She was 54, a luminous person, and we made a lot of music together.

Today, the day after her rainy day funeral, I heard her singing this song to me in her most sultry voice, “Ooh, I’m missing you, I got those bye-bye baby blues.” It’s Becca, right here and now, singing my feelings.

I met Becca in about 1984. I was living in Beersheva, Israel, a desert frontier town. I’d heard that among the 8 students in the very first foreign students program at the fledgling Ben Gurion University there was an American girl who played guitar. I knocked on her dorm door and introduced myself. We got to know each other pretty well musically.

When she went back to the US at the end of the year, I wrote her ‘Becca’s Song‘.

But then she came back! To Beersheva! And, boy, was I happy to see her. We spent the next five years or so singing and playing together. She wanted to call us The Beauty and The Beast, but I don’t remember anyone ever asking what we were called. They just called us Becca and that guy, I think. We played here and there, more or less wherever they would have us, but we thought we were making some pretty darned good music. And we were sure having a lot of fun.

And then she got married, and broke up the band. Damned Gil, taking her away to Haifa. I remember when she first started dating him, and was proud to sign their wedding contract as a witness. She called me Jeff the Jew.

‘Bye Bye Baby Blues’ is from some recordings we made in about 1989. There’s a heartbreaking ‘End of the World‘, and a hilarious ‘Squeeze Box‘. There’s ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?‘ and ‘Different Drum’, and ‘All Shook Up‘, and a whole lot of Everly Brothers: ‘(All I Have to Do is) Dream‘, ‘Wake Up Little Suzie‘, ‘Let It Be Me‘, and ‘Devoted to You‘.

One song that I was dying to sing with Becca was John Sebastian’s “You’re a Big Boy Now”. Becca and I both played acoustic guitar, and that song really needs a bass. I was too lazy to learn it myself, so I pestered her and pestered her until she went out and bought herself an acoustic bass guitar, first one I ever saw. Then I pestered her to start learning it. ‘Big Boy’ is, I believe, her very first effort on the instrument which became her trademark.

We kept in touch over all the years from opposite ends of our little country, mostly running into each other at various musical events. She used to read Song of The Week, and sometimes we’d chat about that. Or one of us would call the other to say to we heard one of ‘our songs’ on the radio, and together we’d think back on those old, fading glory days.

After her kids Noga and Itamar grew up a bit, she started playing more and more, with her band Triad and then professionally with Mark Rashkow and Danny Dworsky. I saw her perform once with the former. She was poised, glowing, raunchy and charismatic. Becca, the rock star.

She used to brag to me about Noga’s dancing and about Itamar’s taste in music. I loved it.

Then, in the spring, just about eight months ago, she got sick. The last time I saw her was when Gil died in the summer. I went up for a shiva call. Becca loved to read, and she was from Houston. There’s a Houston author I used to read a lot, Larry McMurtry. She had more time than energy, so I sent her his long, rambling tale of a cattle drive, “Lonesome Dove”. I know she was enjoying it. I don’t think she got to finish it.

On June 1, I retired from my main job and started writing a novel, “Creston Pale”, full-time, full gas. It’s been half a year now, and I’m about two-thirds of the way through. Regular readers of this blog have noticed that I’ve been laggard, recycling old postings. That’s why. All my writing energies have been going into the book. It’s light and fast-paced and entertaining, I think. I’ve been enjoying the process, and I admit to being quite pleased with the results. It’s a story about – well, you’re just going to have to wait to find out.

Some writers need to be left alone. Some, like me, are desperate for an editor. It’s incredibly hard to find someone perceptive and receptive, both critical and nurturing who can accompany you, answer urgent, bizarre questions at odd hours, serve as a sounding board, listen to you ramble incoherently until some sense begins to coalesce. Becca did all that for me with patience, acumen and insight over the last half year. She was the first person to read what I wrote. She’d pick over the previous chapter word by word, and get excited with me about the way the plot was developing, and help me think through my next step.

I understand she would sit in the hospital with my manuscript and her red pen. She gave me comments I still need to implement. It’s that fresh. Towards the end, I asked her repeatedly if I should continue sending her updates. I felt pretty petty, sending her my scribbles while she was fighting for her life. But she insisted I continue, said it kept her mind sharp, gave her something fun to focus on.

I was sending her drafts right up to the day she went into the hospital for the bone marrow transplant. Gosh, I miss her help.

For Noga and Itamar, I have no words of consolation. It sucks, period. Does it help any to know that so many people loved her and cared about her? Does it help to know that even casual acquaintances would describe her as a dazzling rock star?  She’s gone, way too young, and I have no thoughts or words to palliate that.

But just like you say in the song, Becca, “Ain’t much to do, just sing those bye-bye baby blues.” I just have to accept it and let go, because you are gone.

Except you’re singing the song with a glint in your eye. Because we both know you’re not gone. You’re right here, right now, singing those bye bye baby blues.

Ooh, I’m missin’ you
I’ve got those bye-bye, bye-bye baby blues
Ooh ain’t much to do
Just sing those bye-bye, bye-bye baby blues

Havin’ the blues, hatin’ to lose
Guess I got a lot to learn
All of my friends have lost now and then
I guess it’s just my turn

Ooh, I’m missin’ you
I’ve got those bye-bye, bye-bye baby blues
Ooh ain’t much to do
Just sing those bye-bye, bye-bye baby blues

Tell me the first, hurt you the worst
And time is your best friend
But when you’re this sad and hurtin’ this bad
How do you love again?

Ooh, I’m missin’ you
I’ve got those bye-bye, bye-bye baby blues
Ooh ain’t much to do
Just sing those bye-bye, bye-bye baby blues

 

 

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7

203: Aretha Franklin & Ray Charles: ‘Spirit in the Dark’

Posted by jeff on Sep 6, 2018 in Personal, Rock, Song Of the week

Aretha Franklin & Ray Charles: ‘Spirit in the Dark’

Aretha Franklin & Ray Charles- February 1971 Fillmore West sheet 909 frame 33aI live in what I like to call the only non-Christian country in the Western world. We’re Jewish here, and we have a looong history of being different. In high school and college, half of my classmates and most of my neighbors were Jewish, but the subject was virtually unmentioned. Unmentionable. Obliquely noted only on a very few holidays, it was not something you talked about. If you weren’t ashamed of it, it was certainly nothing to strut.

Why would you want to be different?

Well, most of my friends chose that route, and they became less different than their parents (first-generation Americans) and grandparents (European-born, speaking English with a Yiddish accent). The Old World was left back there, Hitler obliterated it anyway, we are all Americans. Well, most of us.

24-09-2014 12-21-26Our grandparents had rescued us from Hitler, our parents had couched us comfortably in suburbia. But in the throes of the Vietnam War, the Chicago convention and Kent State, the American Dream was going sour. My entire generation sought meaning elsewhere – Molotov cocktails, drugs, alcohol, feng shui, communes, even dentistry. A perverse few even did a retro backflip into the religion of their forefathers. A substantial number of them – well, us – found ourselves in Israel, embracing and embraced by Zionism, Orthodox Judaism, and 10,000 miles distance from our nagging mothers. I even wrote a song about this very odyssey.

We Jews have our own calendar. The day starts at sundown (yeah, I know, that’s oxymoronic), the month starts with the reappearance of the moon (whew, I was really worried it wouldn’t show this time), the year on Rosh HaShana (Head of the Year), which occurs (according to our half-lunar/half-solar calendar) somewhere between September 5 and October 5 (except after 2089, when it will come no earlier than September 6 – let me tell you, this is one tangled can of worms).

Spirit in the Dark

Spirit in the Dark

The event is proscribed in the Bible (Leviticus 23:24 and Numbers 29:1) as a day of blowing the ram’s horn. Nowadays here in this Jewish country it’s a two-day holiday. Everybody puts on their holiday finery, buys a lot of flowers and newspapers, and gifts for the friends who are hosting them for a holiday meal. This year it begins at sundown Sunday and runs till Tuesday night. So if you start counting from tonight (Friday night, the beginning of Sabbath) and take into account that nobody does anything constructive on Sunday other than cooking for the next two days, that makes this a five-day bacchanalia.

For most folks here, five days of vacation and rest. For those of us who joined OAR (the Observe All the Rules club), it means the Day of Judgment, in which we’re called to account for our behavior during the past year. It’s the beginning of a ten-day period of soul-searching, climaxing in the Yom Kippur fast. In practice, Rosh HaShana is a 48- hour prayer marathon in synagogue, with occasional breaks for (a lot of) eating and (a lot of) sleeping and (a lot of) reading the newspapers. I want to tell you, 48 hours without screens is a very long time. Or, to put it more philosophically, “Life is short, but the days are very long.”

Some people, spiritually more highly evolved than myself, manage to engage the day in all its gravity. I overheard a young security guard at the entrance to the mall saying to a friend, in utter earnest, “It’s so frightening – on Monday we’re all gonna stand before The King in judgment. Scary, man!”

Concert-Fillmore-West-San-Francisco-Aretha-Franklin-Ray-CharlesI won’t tell you how challenging that prayer marathon is for me, because My Better Half reads this and she likes to try to picture me with a gray beard swaying in rapture.

I will confess that my two regular synagogue buddies and I occasionally exchange during breaks in the prayer a word or two (or a few trillion) about such spiritually lofty subjects as the new officially released boxed set of Dylan’s Basement Tapes. Z and D and I grew up with Lesley West’s Mountain more prominent in our landscape than Mount Sinai, and we all made a similar journey to the same pew in the same synagogue saying the same prayers for 72 hours that our great-grandfathers did in Eastern Europe. That’s a very gratifying concept, but great-grandpa was hardwired in a way that we’re not. Our attitude to spirituality is somewhat wry, to put it mildly. So it’s at times like this, with Divine Judgment hanging over our mortal souls, that Z and D and I and our like reach into the bag of cultural resources on which we were raised for a booster.

1208449-Aretha-Franklin-Jim-MarshallAnd there’s nothing more boostful than Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles’ rendition of her ‘Spirit in the Dark’ as performed at the Fillmore West on March 6, 1971. The folks up on the stage grew up singing their hearts out in churches in Detroit and rural Florida. The kids in the audience occasionally visited Temple Beth Israel in Squirrel Hill or Shaker Heights.

The 3-night gig was a big one for Aretha, her commercial popularity burgeoning. Jerry Wexler put her on stage in front of a white audience singing popular white songs (Beatles, Paul Simon, Stephen Stills) mixed with pop soul (‘Respect’, ‘Dr Feelgood). He replaced her road band with A-level studio musicians King Curtis and his band The Kingpins (featuring Billy Preston) and The Memphis Horns, with Aretha’s regular backup singers.

On the second night, she spontaneously brought Ray Charles on stage to duet with her on ‘Spirit in the Dark’, a quasi-spiritual she’d written and had a hit with a couple of years previously. She sings the song, then disappears off-stage, then returns with The Genius: “I discovered Ray Charles”, she quips, a reference to Flip Wilson’s Christopher Columbus 1967 skit in which “Queen Isabel Johnson” tells Chris that he can have “all the money you all the money you want, honey — You go find Ray Charles!” And shouting/testifying (drunk) from the dock, “Chris gonna find Ray Charles!”

God

God

We’ve written before about Aretha and about Ray. As Ray said, “There are singers, then there is Aretha.” She calls him “The Right Reverend Ray”.

The gig was documented in the album “Aretha Live at Fillmore West”, not one of her big hits, but gaining respect over the years. It includes a recording of part of the second night’s version of ‘Spirit in the Dark’ with surprise guest Ray. “I actually saw Ray a week or so earlier and told him what I was doing at the Fillmore but I didn’t think too much about it – until the night and there he was in the crowd. The next thing I knew he was up onstage and we were singing ‘Spirit.’ It was really a fantastic show and one that I’ll always remember.”

In 2005, Rhino Records released a 4-CD box set, “Don’t Fight The Feeling: The Complete Aretha Franklin & King Curtis Live At Fillmore West”, but the version of ‘Spirit in the Dark’ there is from the first night.

The entire duet with Ray is recorded in video, all 25 minutes of it. Technically, the quality is low. Musically, it’s sublime. Do yourself a favor, watch it all. Then watch it again. Watch it just before Rosh HaShana. Watch it just before Christmas and before Aid al-Fitr. Watch it before Martin Luther King’s birthday. Watch it before your own birthday. Watch it on your cat’s birthday. Just watch it.

Judgment

Judgment

It’s magic. It’s inspired. Know what? It’s spiritual.

Aretha is ostensibly singing about God, but it’s one very gritty God: Are you gettin’ the spirit in the dark?/People movin’ oh and they groovin’/Just gettin’ the spirit in the dark/Tell me sister how do ya feel?/Tell me my brother, how do you feel?/Do you feel like dancin?/Get up and let’s start dancin’/Start gettin’ the spirit in the dark./Riiiiide Sally ride/Put your hand on your hips/Cover your eyes/And move with the spirit.

Ray may be singing a church tune, but he’s doing it across the street in a honkey-tonk: Every time you get a girl singing with you, can you feel it deep inside?/When my woman wake me up in the morning, she give me the spirit/I gotta find me a woman tonight, ‘cause I feel the spirit.

Maybe Brother Ray can find The Spirit in a honkey-tonk or at the Fillmore West, but me and Z and D, we’re going to be in our neighborhood synagogue, and if we do any singing it’s gonna be a whole lot more bowdlerized than Ray’s. What can I tell you? We didn’t grow up in Rev. Franklin’s church. Well, we didn’t grow up in Grandpa’s shtiebel either, but each of us decided that those are the roots we choose to embrace. Not drugs, not Moonyism, not Fillmorism. We’re gonna sit in shul for three days and be bored out of our minds and try real hard to reconnect with where we came from and seriously ponder our destiny for the coming year. And maybe here and there we’ll even sneak in a little schmooze about Aretha and Ray’s ‘Spirit in the Dark’.

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