Better late than never and I love this song. My favorite Bee Gees song. Well written, well produced, well performed, they did it all just right on this one. Especially love Robin's vocal. No joking, I am not the biggest BG fan...I like some of their songs alright...but this one, in my opinion, is stellar.
I sit in the waiting room, hoping that my wife will be with the doctor at least long enough for me to write down a few things again. Not that I want her to spend too much time in there, and it is lunchtime, so my belly is growling (hoping for some pizza at the CiCi's we passed on the way here), but I've only now resolved to type out these observations after being detained for at least an hour anyway.
The room is not too full at the moment, and I can reasonably assume that this is the result of appointments being scheduled around the physician's meal breaks. Seven people, other than myself, are sitting quietly. An overweight woman in a loud bright green t-shirt has just now been called in. She was reading a paperback novel. From the distance I could not make out the name of the book or the author. Which is too bad because I have an ability to tell alot about a person by the books that they read.
In front and to my right is a young woman texting messages from her iPhone. She seems quite adept at it, as her thumbs glide quickly and effortlessly across it's screen. I can't see her face but her hair is a pretty, dirty blond that's been ironed to an almost unnatural straightness. She sits with her legs crossed and when she finishes texting she puts her hand up to her head as if to hold it, like a person deep in contemplation. It's a gesture that I can be found in often.
To her right, and up a row, is a guy sitting almost unnaturally still. He has medium length curly hair and wire frame glasses. He reclines in what appears to be a comfortable position and watched the television in the upper corner of the room. They have it tuned to the History channel, but that's all I can tell you about it. Usually they have it set to the 24 hour local news loop. No doubt this is much more entertaining, if not as informative. It doesn't matter to me, as I have my headphones on and have been listening to Sun Kil Moon's "Admiral Fell Promises" since long before I started writing this.
The girl with the iPhone just got called back, leaving one more empty chair for the crowd that will surely storm the place when 1:00 comes around. Chairs will be at a premium around that time. I already miss her.
But even as she saunters into the doctor's waiting room another texting female arrives. Unlike the last girl, I got a chance to see this one's face. She's relatively pretty, and I get the initial impression that she's a fun person to be with. Her purse is enormous. She could carry around an entire change of clothes in that thing. She is oblivious to the programming on the History channel, even though the TV is directly in front of her. Her texting is more important to her, which is obvious, but her technique doesn't appear to be nearly as advanced as her predecessor's.
While I wasn't looking a man came in and sat in front of the guy with the curly hair. He's filling out paperwork so odds are he is a new patient. That's a big hassle, having to do that. He's just wrapped it up and places his eyeglasses into his pocket. Apparently they are just for reading, seeing as how he has a pair of sunglasses perched atop his pate. He's drinking from a bottle of water and appears to be much more interested in the television program than the girl he's next to (the one I just described).
I know I've posted a lot of video here lately...probably too much. But as I may have mentioned earlier I got a VHS-DVD converter and there are a lot of old band performances I'm moving to digital. Here's one of them. One of my favorites. We called ourselves Nine Stories back then...and this was before Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories, so I say it's OURS. This is sort of a punk rock type thing I wrote about an ex-girlfriend. "When I see her walking down my street it makes me think about the times we had...I know I ought to feel depressed or something but it really kind of makes me feel glad...to hear 'em callin' her name..." oh, baby. Those were the days I could bust out a killer lyric.
Not too many rock star deaths affect me deeply. But watching Clarence play his solo in "Secret Garden" on this video pulled a tear or two from my dry eyes. I wish I had the words to say how much I admired his musical ability, the way he was able to play simple lines that would blow away even the most skilled jazz musicians because of the passion he put into them. Though it's true that there aren't too many rock bands traveling the world with a full-time saxophone player on board, I feel it's safe to say that Clarence would have been the best of them all. As a sidekick he was irreplaceable. Like Dean Martin losing Jerry Lewis or Oliver Hardy losing Stan Laurel. The comedy references are apt, as well, since there was always a light-hearted and humorous rapport he shared with Springsteen. Man, I can only imagine how Bruce has felt the last couple of days, because it's obvious to anyone who has followed the E Street Band for even a short time that Clarence and Bruce were closes as brothers. Family. That's a hard one to get through.
His solo in "Secret Garden" has come to be my favorite. The top of a long list that I think of as definitive sax breaks in rock history. He really was the best. This one, however, NEVER fails to give me goose bumps and chills. It's like a ghost floating into a room, hovering, taking in all there is, like a sweet fog that surrounds everything, barely perceptible before it wafts back out... It's a lonesome sound, but not a lonely one. It echoes the tone of Springsteen's voice with all the innocent wonder of discovering a lover's inner world. The realization that, as much as your heart desires, you will never have ALL of her. The place that sets her apart from masculinity. That makes her a woman. It is a treasure worth all the gold in the world, but a man can never have it. What Clarence Clemons does with his tenor sax on that song is mourn the loss of something we men can never have. "Where everything you want...Where everything you need...Will always be...a million miles away"...then there's Clarence. Tenderly sending us off on that first mile.
I can't really explain why I like that solo the best. I think part of it is because it's so "Un-Clarence" like. Most of his playing is exuberant and/or anthemic. But in "Secret Garden" he takes an entirely different approach. Settled down, laid back, no longer stealing the spotlight up front...any man that can steal the spotlight from Bruce Springsteen has got major talent...but this time he's almost hidden in the music. His melody slowly twists through the simple synth lines that permeate the song from start to finish. He masterfully controls the dynamics throughout the entire arrangement, oh, it just takes your breath away. It's like every once in a while he'll blow a quiet whole note that augments the lyrics...and then he takes that whole note and stretches it when the solo kicks in. He stretches it and weaves it masterfully, letting that magic whole note branch off into hushed tones like threads in a tapestry.
I know "Secret Garden" is one of Springsteen's more commercial songs. I still have a tad bit of a music snob in me, I guess, because I feel I must apologize for picking a favorite Clemons solo from such a successful Springsteen song. Oh, not saying that he didn't have quite a few hits, but this one is kind of in the same vein as "Born in the USA", "Glory Days", "I'm on Fire"...you know, the Springsteen songs that just about EVERYBODY knows and likes. Even the people who have never heard another note of music from the Boss but maybe have "Dancing in the Dark" on a homemade mix tape, sequenced between Kool & the Gang's "Cherish" and that song by Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam (I am still in the same decade, aren't I?). "Secret Garden" is surely a fixture on many "love-themed" playlists on the back of it's appearance in Cameron Crowe's film "Jerry Maguire". And that's cool. Because it kicked ass in that movie. It was placed in the perfect spot and it's no accident that Crowe didn't cut the soundtrack before Clarence's solo, because it conjured up the atmosphere so completely, if not even better than the lyrics...certainly with as much emotive power.
But yeah..."Secret Garden" is my favorite. I do, however, appreciate the wealth of Clarence's great performances in the E Street catalog. And it was a HARD decision, too. There were, however, a few Big Man moments that I want to acknowledge as some of his very best.
"Night" (from Born to Run)...jumping in after the machine gun blasts that open this track, Clemons gives this under-rated song a book-end hook that only shows up at the start and the conclusion. It's a clever trick...I mean, the riff is so exubarent, so catchy, a fantastic sax line that you expect will come back around in the form of a solo in the middle of the track. It doesn't. Springsteen's song structure teases, as if purposefully holding back...until the end. And there it is, every bit worth the wait, making you want to take the needle off the record and put it right back on.
"Drive All Night" (from The River)...okay, maybe I was wrong. Maybe "Drive All Night" is Clarence Clemons' best solo. Let's just call it a tie for number one, okay? It's just that the first thing I usually think of with this song is the Boss's wailing "heart and soul" outburst. The sax solo kind of gets lost, but only because I'm so smitten with the last couple of minutes. Clarence sounds like a horn man playing in a roadhouse some time in the 50s with a serious rhythm and blues act. He rips into the middle of the song with so much passion that there's no mistaking the meaning the narrator is trying to convey. An aching, somewhere in the guts, that hurts almost as much as it feels good. He digs into that place, gives it a sound for a moment, then moves over to let Springsteen do what he will (and can) with the inspiration he's just been given. I've always maintained that "Drive All Night" is one of the best love songs ever written. Proof? "I swear I'd drive all night just to buy you some shoes and to taste your tender charms"... You hear a lot of people sing about how much they love their woman, but few are so perceptive and brilliant that they know the value of shoes in a woman's world. This is a man who really has been in love and has learned the valuable lessons.
"The Promised Land" (from Darkness on the Edge of Town)...One of the marks of a great musician is that they are immediately recognizable to anyone who has heard much of their music. Not so much "recognizable", I don't guess, but more of like "That could only be Clarence Clemons!" And the middle section solo here has "Big Man" stamped all over it. I'll never forget the show of love the audience displayed for CC when he stepped up front to play this solo at the Tulsa show a couple of years ago. He had said that the last tour the E Street Band did, which included this show, were "pure hell because of the pain". We all knew that he was in ill health. You could tell. Even so, his playing was fantastic. When "The Promised Land" came around he didn't miss a note. It was an empowering thing, almost, if that makes any sense. Like a glimpse of that Promised Land Bruce sings of and an affirmation that yes, we can get there if we only believe in it.
"Jungleland" (from Born to Run)... EPIC. This might as well be Clarence's signature solo. It's almost like a song within a song, sandwiched between the beginning and end of it's namesake. He starts out with a melody that could have come straight from West Side Story and slowly, almost imperceptibly adds more texture to it until by the end of his part it's become something majestic. Yearning. Much as I love the other songs on this list, I would still tell anyone who has never heard Clarence Clemons play that the place to start is "Jungleland". When I was a kid - 16,17 years old - I played saxophone in my high school's stage band (basically a big band jazz thing). I wanted to play improvisational solos and the way I learned how was to play along with records. I got pretty decent on a few, but the one I played the most, the one I liked the most and the one I eventually played better than the others was "Jungleland". Such an incredibly cathartic song to play. I wish all of you could know just how awesome it is to play along with Clarence Clemons, even if it's only a recording of him.
"Badlands" (from Darkness on the Edge of Town)... I include this as an example of how well Clemons' playing complimented Springsteen's. Bruce is not a "show-ey" guitar player. Still, if you listen closely you will find out just how good he is. The Big Man shared that same quality. He wasn't a flashy player. He wasn't the kind of player that traded in "how many notes can I fit into this bar?". He knew what the song needed, and that's exactly what he gave it. "Badlands" is a perfect example where you can hear Bruce turn over the reins and let the Big Man shine.
"Born to Run" (from Born to Run)... I don't think I even need to say much about Clarence's contribution to this song. Let's just say his playing constitutes a high percentage of why it is possibly the greatest rock and roll song ever written. Listen to that rumbling baritone sax blast at the start...there's the foundation of the Wall of Sound Springsteen was going for. CC's solo is a tad faster than what he usually played but his signature is still intact. Listening to the song right now and I'm struck by just how prevalent his playing is throughout. Nothing but texture and shading. Exactly what the track demanded. "Born to Run" is classic not only for the song itself, but for the sound. I've only now realized how much Clarence Clemons contributed to that sound.
Okay, there are many others..."Thunder Road", "Bobby Jean", "The Ties That Bind", "Rosalita", "New York City Serenade" among others. But there are only so many hours in the day. Though I see Clarence Clemons' passing as a major loss, I never realized how much I really enjoyed his playing. I mean, of course I love it and always have, but I don't think I ever gave him nearly as much credit as he deserved. I would like to correct that here and now.
I think it was the Righteous Brothers who had a hit with "Rock and Roll Heaven". I'm sure you've heard it. "If you believe in forever then life is just a one night stand - If there's a rock and roll heaven then you know they've got a hell of a band." That band has grown bigger and bigger ever since Buddy Holly died, but one thing is for sure: yesterday they got as good a sax player as they could have dreamed of.
I've been wanting a VHS-to-digital file converter for a long time...yesterday I finally got one. I imagine there will be lots of posts coming up that will be culled from the hours of tape collecting dust on the shelves. Here's the first one I uploaded to YouTube: a performance of Hank Williams Jr.'s "Born to Boogie" which was recorded March 5th, 1998. Jeez, lots of stuff happened between then and now, I tell ya. The venue was Charie's Palace in Shawnee Oklahoma, where I was the bass player in the house band. $50 a night, three nights a week. Not great, but better than what a lot of podunk country bands get paid on the local circuits in these parts. It was a fun gig, but that may have been because I was never "in my right mind" when I played there. Not a single show, if you know what I mean. I do know this: my ability to play bass pretty much reached it's peak while I was playing there. I mean, I was very good a couple of years later with King Tongue, but the Charlie's gig was what made me get to that level. I can't play worth a damn anymore.
I'm sick to death of seeing Lady GaGa all over the place. On magazine covers, on TV, on the Internet, everywhere you turn. You can't get away from her. Why has she struck such a chord with the American people? I mean, I have seen Facebook profiles of women well into their middle ages listing Gaga as a music favorite.
I saw her first video on MTV when it first came out (please don't ask what I was doing watching MTV, I assure you it was a 'WTF' pause in an otherwise boring channel surf). I thought it was campy and not really all that original. As her popularity increased I became convinced that her whole schtick was a combination of Marilyn Manson and Madonna. Both of whom have courted their fare share of controversy. Both of whom have also trotted out a penchant for deliberate controversy. Not necessarily to make up for any lack of talent, whether I particularly care for their work or not. But Lady GaGa, as a musical artist, hasn't enough talent to take 3rd place in a karaoke contest at a small town dive bar. It's entirely possible that she would agree, although not going quite so far with the analogy.
She has described herself as a "performance artist" and of course that's what she is. I'll even concede that she is a very good one. But the thing is: your average Joe Blow hasn't a clue what a "performance artist" even is. I don't mean that as an insult to anyone. I'm only saying that "art", to the majority, isn't nearly as important as what's on TV (precious little "art" to be found there), or who won the ball game last night or just hanging out shooting the bull with friends. That's all fine and good, nothing wrong with it. But these same people are the ones who have elevated Lady GaGa to the exalted position she is currently enjoying.
Which brings me to the other tool the Lady uses to increase her fan base: her fans. Or I should say her devotion to her fans. I have rarely ever seen a performer use so much PR time thanking and praising fans. No matter how outrageous she gets (meat dress, anyone?), no matter how hard she tries to be controversial (and maybe piss off a few squares in the process) she will always be embraced by her admirers because she has gone out of her way to make them feel like they are an integral part of who she is and the success she has enjoyed. And they are, I'm sure. That's the way it should be done, in my opinion. You have to become a part of your own fan base without kissing their asses. GaGa has come dangerously close but so far I don't think she's pandered to them.
She just doesn't, in my opinion, give them much substance to work with. Not that I would know. My exposure to her act has been about as limited as I can make it be. That's not why I started writing this, anyway. I am not really concerned with the quality of her music, and as I have already stated I do think she's a brilliant performance artist. I just get sick of seeing her picture everywhere and I guess it miffs me a little to know that I predicted a short, sweet future for her when I first saw that video. Now she's on the cover of this week's Rolling Stone (again). Such hype, such overexposure, surely can't be good for her. The American public, fan or no, is extremely fickle and you have to wonder just how long it will be before those loyal GaGa-heads jump ship for the next fly-by-night. Or maybe she'll actually succeed in taking things too far, so far that she'll lose a significant chunk of her supporters? The question isn't IF it will happen, but WHEN it will happen.
I wish her luck, I really do. I hope she saves her money and invests it wisely so she can live high on the hog for the rest of her post-15 Minutes life. She'll never be forgotten, I guess that's saying something. But Milli Vanilli will never be forgotten, either.
Which is not a fair comparison, I know. Maybe what I mean is that performance artists don't fare too well in the "where are they now" category. This is only natural. It's the PERFORMANCE that takes center stage for a performance artist (duh), while the artist creating it inevitably is forgotten. And the performance comes to an end when there is no one left who cares about watching it. Like a movie or a rock opera it can't last TOO long, else it's impact is consumed by the inevitable, essential boredom that is only natural when something goes on for too long. So maybe, for the sake of her art, Lady GaGa would do well to close down shop before she wears out her welcome.
All of this, admittedly, coming from the pen of a man who has given up hope for popular music several years ago, who won't be one bit offended if his readers tell him he's full of crap, that he isn't qualified to write about the topic. That's very likely true. But I did. I wrote about it. I wrote it because I was bored and noticed Lady GaGa on the cover of Rolling Stone and couldn't help but think how sick and tired I am of seeing her picture plastered everywhere. So that's really all I have to say. Cut me some slack, o ye gods of superstardom and forgive my apathy.
I'm discouraged at how I can see only absurdity in this phenomenon that so many people think is so "cool". I see her decked out in some weird half-naked batman outfit on Letterman and the first thing that comes to my mind is not "How outrageous", but "how ridiculous". And I think this transition I've undergone is a confirming sign that tells me I am starting to show my age. I am becoming less and less able to give a damn about the new and exciting. I'd rather listen for things I never heard before in the music that has shaped my taste for the last 40 years. You'd be surprised at how much there is. Either I've never noticed it or I've forgotten it. That's much more satisfying, to me, than pick and choose out of a new stable of bands, most of which are playing out a formula that was made popular by the music I've been listening to for years. I've already heard it, boys. Good luck to ya, because most folks out there HAVEN'T.
(note: I have, throughout this essay, spelled the subject's name thusly: "Lady GaGa". As I wrote the part about being so out of touch with pop culture I realized that my use of two capitals in her surname was possibly, maybe even likely, incorrect. Upon further investigation my suspicions were confirmed. Why did I think it was GaGa instead of Gaga? Hell if I know. But I wasn't about to go back and correct it, because hey, who really cares, right? Besides, I think GaGa is much better. If she'd exploded onto the glam scene in the early seventies you can be sure it would have been GaGa. My apologies to the regal Lady and her loyal posse of fans.)