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

Posted by jeff on Sep 20, 2017 in Personal, Rock, Song Of the week

It’s Erev Rosh HaShana, the eve of the Jewish New Year. I’m (supposed to be) all geared up to stand before my Maker, give account for whether I’ve been naughty or nice during the past year, and to pray very very very hard for a positive review in the book of life for the upcoming year (ה’תשע”ח, 5778 by our count).

To tell the truth, it’s a bit hard to be writing about rock music as that Book of Life is being dusted off, the Celestial Inkwell refilled, the Quill of Fate sharpened. I need to write a posting about Penitence (you’d be surprised how impenitent rock stars tend to be), the Cycle of the Year (b-o-r-i-n-g), or at least Jewish peoplehood.  And y’all people were so nice about the piece I posted a few weeks ago about Laura Nyro’s stunning live bootleg version of ‘Stoney End’. So here goes:

Spring, 1970, Kent State. “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”. Bill went Westwards. Mike went south. I went to the East.

I became tribal. We all needed a belief to cling to. 1970 was a seller’s market, and a lot of new beliefs, cults, religions were hitting the shelves. I decided to go for The Hoary. I figured if my direct ancestors had been practicing our particular breed of ritual and practice and deportment for 3000 years, that was a good enough starting point for me. So I chose to strap myself to the Jewish tradition, all the way from Adherence to Zionism.

So I tend to perceive the world through Jewish and Israeli eyes (and in our case, ears). I’ve been doing my bi-annualish Laura Nyro binge on her early years (nothing new there), her first album (excavating treasures from underneath the layers of mucky arrangements), and especially the bootlegs from that period.

And I’ve been listening to Laura as a 19-year old Jewish girl pounding the piano and singing her Jewish heart out. As far as I know, Laura ignored her ancestry (she was ¾ Jewish, only her paternal grandfather was Italian), as did most of the other Jewish girls I knew in 1968 (including Carole King, Janis Ian, Carly Simon, Lesley Gore, Bette Midler, Cass Eliot, and Barbra Streisand).

That doesn’t stop me from retrospectively listening to Laura through parochial ears. I would think that even a Martian observer would detect a certain irony here—so many people ignoring or denying how much their common ancestry has informed them. To be perfectly honest, perhaps the galvanizing moment of my life was sitting in an SDS meeting (as a beer-carrying observer), listening to Messrs Klein, Rothman, Blackman, Cohen and Steinberg bashing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

Laura has a Jewish soul. Not a solely Jewish soul. Soon we’ll get to her Motown in My Soul. But the passion, the compassion, the drive to describe and define and analyze—I see these as part of the Jewish character.

So I decided to present you this week with a Rosh HaShana gift – a collection of live bootlegs of Laura performing songs which never appeared on her official studio albums (maybe for Vol. 2 we’ll  – all covers, mostly Motown-ish, garnished at the end with a few standards. The order is chronological. For my ears, and I hope for yours, this is a treasure trove of obscure delights:

1. ‘Walk On By’ (Fillmore East, June 20, 1970 )

Written by Burt Bacharach/Hal David for Dionne Warwick. SoTW 034 tells the whole story.

2. ‘Up On the Roof’ (Fillmore East, June 20, 1970 )

Written by Carole King/Gerry Goffin for The Drifters. I told the whole Carole King story in SoTW 234: Carole King, ‘Up On the Roof’ (Live, 1971). Someday maybe I’ll write yet another post about why I think Laura owns the song more than The Drifters or even Carole King herself.

The only song in this collection which did appear on an official album (“Christmas and the Beads of Sweat”), I believe the only cover she recorded other than “Gonna Take a Miracle”. I cheated. Sue me.

3-4. ‘Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing’/’Natural Woman’ (Fillmore East May 30, 1971)

3 Written by Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.

4 Written by Goffin/King with Jerry Wexler for Aretha Franklin.

5. ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ (Japan, 1972)

Written by Carole King/Gerry Goffin for The Shirelles. The whole story is in SoTW 182: The Shirelles, ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’

6. ‘Come and Get These Memories’ (Japan, 1972)

Written by Holland-Dozier-Holland for Martha and the Vandellas. SoTW 062 tells the story of another hit of theirs.

7. ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ (Japan, 1972)

Written by Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.

8-9. ‘I’m So Proud’/’Dedicated to the One I Love’ (NYC, June 27, 1990)

8 written by Curtis Mayfield for his group The Impressions.

9 written by Lowman Pauling and Ralph Bass, made famous by The Shirelles and The Mamas and The Papas.

10. ‘Baby, It’s You’ (“Late Sky”, unreleased studio recording, 1994-5)

Written by Carole King/Gerry Goffin for The Shirelles. Later recorded by The Beatles.

11. ‘I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself’ (“Late Sky”, 1994-5)

Written by Burt Bacharach/Hal David for Dusty Springfield.

12. ‘He Was Too Good to Me’ (“Late Sky”, 1994-5)

Written by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart in 1930, eventually becoming a jazz standard (here by Chet Baker).

13. ‘Let It Be Me’ (“Late Sky”, 1994-5)

Composed by Gilbert Bécaud in 1955, a hit for The Everly Brothers in 1960 and for Betty Everett and Jerry Butler in 1964.

14. ‘Embraceable You’ (“Late Sky”, 1994-5)

Written by George and Ira Gershwin in 1928, eventually becoming a jazz standard (here by Judy Garland).


So that’s my Rosh HaShana gift to y’all. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

If I may be so haughty as to address The World on behalf of the Jewish people, we have tried throughout the millennia to contribute to the world we live in. As the prophet Isaiah says (42:6):

I the LORD have called you in righteousness, and shall hold your hand and keep you and give you as a people’s covenant, as a light for the nations.

אֲנִי ה’ קְרָאתִיךָ בְצֶדֶק, וְאַחְזֵק בְּיָדֶךָ; וְאֶצָּרְךָ, וְאֶתֶּנְךָ לִבְרִית עָם–לְאוֹר גּוֹיִם.

Over the last 100 years, we’ve contributed not a little to popular culture (Vaudeville, Hollywood, Broadway). More specifically for our concerns here, we’ve given you ¾ of Laura Nyro, and 8 of the 14 songs here.

Wishing everyone, everywhere, regardless of race, creed, color, gender or musical taste a very good year, a Shana Tova, full of health, happiness, pleasant surprises, and great music.



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146: Hamilton Camp, ‘Pride of Man’

Posted by jeff on Sep 14, 2012 in History, Personal, Rock

Lightfoot — Pride of Man
Pride of Man (Quicksilver Messenger Service)

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563)

Last week we wrote about ‘Early Morning Rain’, a song written by Gordon Lightfoot (b . 1938), the Canadian folksinger-songwriter whose muscular acoustic guitar/string bass/soft drums trio greatly influenced Bob Dylan (“Bringing It All Back Home”, “John Wesley Harding”). My friend Avi Katz, a wonderful illustrator and all-round repository of knowledge from the names of carpentry tools to the real worth of a popular painter, pointed me to ‘Pride of Man’, a fairly obscure song written by Hamilton Camp in 1964, which presaged 9/11 graphically and conceptually.


Flash of fire ten times brighter than the day…

I don’t go in for imaginary stuff. I’m an old-school meat-and-potatoes kind of guy: if I can’t hold it or chew it, I don’t want to hear about it. I read no science fiction or fantasy. So when someone tells me that a 1964 song describes a 2001 event, I don’t even bother to scoff. Except when it’s Avi, because Avi’s a lot smarter than me. So I checked it out. Know what? ‘Pride of Man’ (©1964 by Hamilton Camp) vividly describes the September 11 attacks (©2001 by al-Qaeda).

The song was a minor hit in 1966 for Gordon Lightfoot on his debut album, and in 1968 for Quicksilver Messenger Service (one of the leading San Francisco bands together with Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead).

Hamilton Camp

Who is Hamilton Camp, you may ask. I admit I had only a foggy recollection of him from Back Then (but then most of my memories from BT are pretty foggy). It turns out Bob Camp (1934-2005) was evacuated from London during the Blitz and became a child actor in Hollywood.  He played in a trillion movies and TV shows, including a messenger boy in the 1953 version of “Titanic”, the uncredited second clerk in “The Graduate” (although I looked and could only find Buck Henry at the desk) and  in two episodes of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” as Leck, a Ferengi) and sang folk music with Bob Gibson and by himself.

He changed his name to Hamilton after joining the Subud spiritual movement, founded in the 1920s in Indonesia, now with 10,000 followers worldwide (including Jim>Roger McGuinn). “His soul had an argument with itself and the side that won decided to stop killing itself, to stop singing for release and to start singing for love.” Okay. I guess you can’t argue against singing for love. Hey, maybe I’ll change my name. How about, um, Isaac? Anyway, Ham’s most famous song was indeed ‘Pride of Man’:

Hamilton Leck

Turn around, go back down, back the way you came
Can’t you see that flash of fire ten times brighter than the day
And behold the mighty city broken in the dust again
Oh God, the pride of man, broken in the dust again

It’s hard to not picture the firefighters trying to climb the stairs of the Twin Towers, the song admonishing them that their attempts to combat the explosion will be for naught.

Turn around, go back down, back the way you came
Babylon is laid to waste, Egypt’s buried in her shame
Their mighty men are beaten down, their kings have fallen in the ways
Oh God, the pride of man, broken in the dust again

Our purpose here isn’t to quibble with the details of the song (the Egyptian pyramids are still standing, Egypt has never been associated with ‘shame’ in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Egypt metaphor is just a one-time toss-off in this stanza). Bob/Hamilton is by all accounts a Minor Prophet. But let’s take a look at that Babylon metaphor.

Pride of Man

Genesis begins with three stories – the Creation, the Deluge, and the Tower of Babel. Why the flood? “And God saw the earth, and behold it was corrupted, for all flesh had corrupted its ways on the earth.” Boom, reformat the global Hard Disk, let’s try again.

After the flood, Noah was pretty depressed (daunted I suppose by the major cleaning task facing him and Mrs Noah), so God saw fit to promise him that he would never again resort to such drastic measures, that the world would continue to revolve. But He just turned around, and lookee wa’ happen: at the beginning of Genesis 11, ‘the entire earth was of one language, and one speaking’. A whole bunch of Noah’s descendants started dwelling in close proximity (that gregarious, tribal tendency I suppose), real estate got scarce, and the engineers figured out how to make bricks. “And they said, let’s build us a city and a skyscraper with its top all the way up in the sky, and we’ll make a name for ourselves, so that we won’t scatter all over the earth.”

You know, on the face of things, that doesn’t sound so bad to me. But God came down to check out The Tower, and He took a different view: “Here, one people and one language for all of them, and this is what they start doing? Now nothing will stop them from all their scheming. Let’s go down and babble up their language, so they can’t understand one another’s language. And God scattered them all over the face of the earth, and they stopped building that city.”

Pride of Lions

As anyone who’s taken high school French knows, differences in language are indeed a giant barrier to worldwide cooperation, even with Google Translate. I don’t profess to understand the Babel story completely, but it’s clear to me that there is a dynamic here, a dialectic. My Pooh understanding of the story tells me that there’s nothing inherently wrong with Man’s ambition, nor with his drive to create cities. The problem isn’t with the action itself, it’s with Man’s character. God created those Babylonians, just like He created us, and He knows if we’re going to be bad or good. Let’s rephrase that–He knows we’re going to be bad. So he decides at the very beginning of Earth Ver. 2.1 to lead us not into temptation: no skyscrapers, guys, it’ll only get you into trouble.

Turn around, go back down, back the way you came
Terror is on every side, though the leaders are dismayed
Those who put their faith in fire, in fire their faith shall be repaid
Oh God, the pride of man, broken in the dust again.

Turn around, go back down, back the way you came
Shout a warning to the nations that the sword of God is raised
On Babylon that mighty city, rich in treasure, wide in fame
It shall cause thy tower to fall and make it be a pyre of flame
Oh God, the pride of man, broken in the dust again.

Oh thou that dwell on many waters, rich in treasure, wide in fame
Bow unto a god of gold, thy pride of might shall be thy shame
Oh God, the pride of man, broken in the dust again.

Whose side is Hamilton Camp on here? In his prophecy, is he saying that al- Qaeda is the arm of God, that the World Trade Center is the symbol of Man’s hubris, his challenge to the supremacy of God? That’s a pretty uncomfortable reading of the 1964 song, and a very troubling way of looking at the events that took place eleven years ago this week.

And only God can lead the people back into the earth again
Thy holy mountain be restored, Thy mercy on Thy people, Lord.

Reb Chaim of Brisk

Sunday night begins Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year. It’s a time for reflection, for each of us to perform חשבון נפש (spiritual accounting). That’s a very difficult task, making sense out of all this. For a helping hand I usually turn for perspective to the wisest man I’ve read, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, the grandson of Reb Chaim of Brisk (1853-1918), the founder of the modern Yeshiva approach to learning.  ‘The Rav’ himself (1903-93) was born in a shtetl in what became Lithuania, earned his Ph.D. in philosophy in Germany in 1932, then moved to Boston where he became a community rabbi. In 1941 he succeeded his father as head of the yeshiva at Yeshiva University in New York, where he taught until his death. He ordained over 2000 rabbis, and is considered to be the seminal figure in Modern Orthodox Judaism (a camp with which I identify), which advocates a synthesis between strict observance to Jewish law, the study of Torah, secular scholarship, and involvement with the community at large.

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, ‘The Rav’

In addition to his achievements as a community rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Soloveitchik was a profound philosopher. Perhaps his most influential work has been “The Lonely Man of Faith”, a 110-page treatise reconciling the fragmented, existential modern perception of the world with religious faith. I find it brutally honest, painfully truthful, and a source of great consolation.

The Rav analyzes the two stories of The Creation (Genesis 1 and Genesis 2), the Adam of each. He probes the dichotomy, the seeming contradictions, between the two Adams.

Adam the first is created in the “image of God”, referring “to man’s inner charismatic endowment as a creative being. Man’s likeness to God expresses itself in man’s striving and ability to become a creator.” It is he who has the “mandate to subdue nature”. “Man acquires dignity through glory, through his majestic posture vis-à-vis his environment.”

“While Adam the first is dynamic and creative…, Adam the second is receptive and beholds the world in its original dimensions.” “ Adam the second perceives the world as it is created and asks not ‘how?’ but ‘why?’” “He wants to understand the living, ‘given’ world into which he has been cast.” “He asks: ‘What is the purpose of all this? What is the message that is embedded in organic and inorganic matter, and what does the great challenge reaching me from beyond the fringes of the universe as well as from the depths of my tormented soul mean?”

Our challenge in this world, The Rav argues, is synthesize these two paradigms in our lives. To build, and simultaneously to remember our insignificance. Pride leads to a fall, Hamilton Camp reminds us. What would God say about the al-Qaeda attacks? I’m not privy to that. I never thought of the WTC as a symbol of man’s pride, and I do think of al-Qaeda as a horrifying example of where self-righteousness can lead. But I do understand that we of the West are not the only inhabitants of this earth; and that this earth has become so small, and that we have overcome so many of the boundaries of speaking in 70 tongues, that we really do need to find ways to ensure that we accommodate all of God’s children. Our boundaries are no longer those of our town. We all have global responsibilities. What’s the נפקא מינה of that, the operative conclusion? I don’t know. My assumption is that תיקון עולם, Tikkun Olam, fixing the world, begins with fixing oneself. So while I’m praying during Rosh HaShana, I’ll try to give thought to my own human tendencies to excessive pride as an individual and as a citizen; and to my desires to make some kind of statement while I’m here; and how to best reconcile the two. I’ll try to come up with a plan to make myself a better person in the year to come.

 If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

SoTW 012: Arvo Pärt, ‘Cantate Domino’
SoTW 15: Tracy Nelson (Mother Earth), ‘Down So Long’
SoTW 084: Dmitri Shostakovich, Prelude & Fugue No 16 in B-flat Minor (Tatiana Nikolaeva)


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