Thursday, July 28, 2011

New Site! Say Goodbye to this One.

BillJanovitz.com and PartTimeManofRock.com will both be the same site now. All new covers and post will live there as this site comes to an end.

Keep checking in!

B

Summer Songs for Boston Mag

This is the full, unedited version of a post I wrote for Boston Magazine.

With my day job marketing real estate entering the semi-dormant state of the dead of summer, my attention veers back to music, specifically, songs that I love to play during the summer. Since I am trying out Spotify (user name billjanovitz), I will attempt to share a playlist there for the first time. Let's see if this experiment works with this link. I make no claim that these are the 10 best summer songs of all time (you would need "Summertime Blues," "Dancing in the Street," and "Heat Wave" on such a list.) These are not necessarily even my top 10, but they are the first 10 that jump to mind right now.

One of my band's (Buffalo Tom) best-known songs is called, "Summer," in fact. And like that song, many of my picks here have to do with the passing of summer or are otherwise melancholy. In fact, one of my song's lines goes, "Summer's gone, a summer song/You've wasted everyday." Uplifting, eh? I think this has every thing to do with growing up in the Northeast, where summer is so precious, and every year it seems to pass ever more quickly. We trot out all the cliches about the passage of time. And that is what my favorite summer-themed songs explore. Make the summer count, goes the sentiment, and by extension, make every day of life meaningful.

1. The Beach Boys, "Surfer Girl"


How could any list of summer songs not include a Beach Boys song? In fact, I could easily constitute the list with all Beach Boys numbers, including other melancholy numbers like "In My Room." This song is all about pining all summer for a girl from afar, an elusive surfer girl, over the classic pop ballad chord progression and a bed of plaintive Four Freshman-like harmonies. Poor old Brian wasn't the surfer. His brother, Dennis was. Brian was just a fish out of water more comfortable in his room. Pet Sounds was the real Brian. And so was his lament, "Surfer Girl."

2. War, "Summer"


OK, let's stop wallowing for a minute and just enjoy summer with this one from the band War. I am a child of the 1970s, so more than a couple of my picks are from that era. War sings of many of the cultural highlights of the '70s: "Riding 'round town with all the windows down/Eight track playin' all your favorite sounds." Late they sing about vans and CB radios. It was like they had a direct line to my heart and soul, or at least my fantasy world. It has such a good latin-funk groove that you can't help but chill.

3. Sly & The Family Stone, "Hot Sun in the Summertime"


This is one that would appear on the lists of many folks, no doubt. From 1969, the genre-smashing Sly & the Family Stone, offering a nostalgic look back at summer's past, but still celebratory of summers present. Sly could ease off of the funk pedal now and then with a big blast of horn-driven pop like this one.

4. Lou Rawls, "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine"


Some songs just remind you of summer, even if the lyrics have nothing to do with the theme. This Gamble & Huff smash was released in 1976. Every time I hear it, it brings me back to summer of that year. I was 10, growing up on the north shore beaches of Long Island. This latin-funk-tinged slab of Philly soul was number one in July 1976. It poured forth out of every little Panasonic transistor radio on the beach, wafting over the gentle breakers on the jetty. I remember watching Lou on the "Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" that summer. Johnny asked Lou, "do you like any of the new singers out today?" Lou replied, smoothly, "awww yeah, man. I love 'em all." Probing in that hardball way Johnny was known for, he pressed on, "anyone specifically you like to listen to?" Lou, kept his cool, undaunted, not prone to the sort of panic that would result in a weaker man blurting out something like "K.C. & the Sunshine band," just purred again, "aww, I just love 'em all." And I believed him.

5. Frank Sinatra, "The Summer Wind."


Frank Sinatra once said that Lou Rawls had "the classiest singing and silkiest chops in the singing game." Which leads me to a Sinatra number. I grew up with this song (my mother is a 100% Italian New Yorker) but when I heard it over the opening scene ofThe Pope of Greenwich Village, with Mickey Rourke getting all dressed to the nines for his gig as a restaurant manager, it was sort of life-changing, or at least a revelation. I went to thinking Frank was actually cool. Sure, we all know that now, but this was 1984. I was 18. Sure, I liked Frank, but I didn't think he was cool. What the hell did I know? I was a kid, for chrissakes! I have sung this song at weddings, piano bars at Frank's Steakhouse, and the Paddock, not to mention karaoke joints around the world. What a lyric by Johnny Mercer: "Like painted kites, those days and nights, they went flying by/The world was new beneath a blue umbrella sky." And what a powerful Nelson Riddle arrangement of a Henry Meyer composition! It swings, baby! the version on my Spotify playlist is an older Frank, live at Radio City, from 1990. The years in his voice adds another layer of depth to the poignant lyric.

6. João Gilberto, Meditação ("Meditation)


The bossa nova stylings of Antonio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto make for deeply satisfying summer listening. Gilberto is credited as creating this style, which take the beat of the samba but brings it to a stripped down, mellower context. Gilberto worked with the writer and producer Jobim to record some of the 20th century's most sublime melodies and lyrics. Depending on the translation from the native Portuguese, these songs can achieve the same Zen effect of Haiku, with nature, solitude, and meditation common threads that run between the art forms. Gilberto provides this evergreen Jobim song with his unadorned vocal style, which allows the listener to just soak in the melody, rest in the gentle samba sway, and ponder the rich lyric.

7. Chet Baker, "There Will Never Be Another You."


Chet Baker is closely identified with the "West Coast cool" offshoot of bop, which traded influences with bossa nova. One can here the similar "flat" style of singing, the relative straightforward presentation of the melody, and the gentle swing. There are few hard edges, but don't this stuff as "light." Chet's singing is deeply emotional and he was a real jazz player, surrounded by some of the best in the business when he tok to the microphone for his seminal Chet Baker Sings (1956)

8. The Rolling Stones, "Memory Motel"


Growing up on Long Island, we heard about this being written at and/or about the motel of the same name out in Montauk. This record, like many of the Stones' middle period, is actually quite underrated. This ballad screams 1970s summer and is one of my all-time fave Stones numbers. "When I asked her where she's headed for/'Back up to Boston, I'm singing in a bar.'"

9. Elvin Bishop, "Fooled Around and Fell in Love"


Elvin Bishop was one of those guitarists who had an act under his own name but had his biggest hit with a guest vocalist, Mickey Thomas, a top blue-eyed soul singer who went on to become the lead singer in Jefferson Starship. This smash was peaked at number three on the charts in May of 1976 but was all over the radio that summer, hence its effective placement in movies like Boogie Nights and Summer of Sam. It has that "burned out at the end of a hot summer's day" feel to me, driving home all sunburned at the beach.

10. Grateful Dead, "U.S. Blues"


As I said, I am unapologetically a child of the 1970s, and this is an shameless summer anthem, filled with images of Americana, name-dropping the likes of P.T. Barnum and Charlie Chan, flag waving and bits of other old-timey summertime fun.

Summer Songs for Boston Mag

This is the full, unedited version of a post I wrote for Boston Magazine.

With my day job marketing real estate entering the semi-dormant state of the dead of summer, my attention veers back to music, specifically, songs that I love to play during the summer. Since I am trying out Spotify, I will attempt to share a playlist there for the first time. Let's see if this experiment works with this link. I make no claim that these are the 10 best summer songs of all time (you would need "Summertime Blues," "Dancing in the Street," and "Heat Wave" on such a list.) These are not necessarily even my top 10, but they are the first 10 that jump to mind right now.

One of my band's (Buffalo Tom) best-known songs is called, "Summer," in fact. And like that song, many of my picks here have to do with the passing of summer or are otherwise melancholy. In fact, one of my song's lines goes, "Summer's gone, a summer song/You've wasted everyday." Uplifting, eh? I think this has every thing to do with growing up in the Northeast, where summer is so precious, and every year it seems to pass ever more quickly. We trot out all the cliches about the passage of time. And that is what my favorite summer-themed songs explore. Make the summer count, goes the sentiment, and by extension, make every day of life meaningful.

1. The Beach Boys, "Surfer Girl"


How could any list of summer songs not include a Beach Boys song? In fact, I could easily constitute the list with all Beach Boys numbers, including other melancholy numbers like "In My Room." This song is all about pining all summer for a girl from afar, an elusive surfer girl, over the classic pop ballad chord progression and a bed of plaintive Four Freshman-like harmonies. Poor old Brian wasn't the surfer. His brother, Dennis was. Brian was just a fish out of water more comfortable in his room. Pet Sounds was the real Brian. And so was his lament, "Surfer Girl."

2. War, "Summer"


OK, let's stop wallowing for a minute and just enjoy summer with this one from the band War. I am a child of the 1970s, so more than a couple of my picks are from that era. War sings of many of the cultural highlights of the '70s: "Riding 'round town with all the windows down/Eight track playin' all your favorite sounds." Late they sing about vans and CB radios. It was like they had a direct line to my heart and soul, or at least my fantasy world. It has such a good latin-funk groove that you can't help but chill.

3. Sly & The Family Stone, "Hot Sun in the Summertime"


This is one that would appear on the lists of many folks, no doubt. From 1969, the genre-smashing Sly & the Family Stone, offering a nostalgic look back at summer's past, but still celebratory of summers present. Sly could ease off of the funk pedal now and then with a big blast of horn-driven pop like this one.

4. Lou Rawls, "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine"


Some songs just remind you of summer, even if the lyrics have nothing to do with the theme. This Gamble & Huff smash was released in 1976. Every time I hear it, it brings me back to summer of that year. I was 10, growing up on the north shore beaches of Long Island. This latin-funk-tinged slab of Philly soul was number one in July 1976. It poured forth out of every little Panasonic transistor radio on the beach, wafting over the gentle breakers on the jetty. I remember watching Lou on the "Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" that summer. Johnny asked Lou, "do you like any of the new singers out today?" Lou replied, smoothly, "awww yeah, man. I love 'em all." Probing in that hardball way Johnny was known for, he pressed on, "anyone specifically you like to listen to?" Lou, kept his cool, undaunted, not prone to the sort of panic that would result in a weaker man blurting out something like "K.C. & the Sunshine band," just purred again, "aww, I just love 'em all." And I believed him.

5. Frank Sinatra, "The Summer Wind."


Frank Sinatra once said that Lou Rawls had "the classiest singing and silkiest chops in the singing game." Which leads me to a Sinatra number. I grew up with this song (my mother is a 100% Italian New Yorker) but when I heard it over the opening scene ofThe Pope of Greenwich Village, with Mickey Rourke getting all dressed to the nines for his gig as a restaurant manager, it was sort of life-changing, or at least a revelation. I went to thinking Frank was actually cool. Sure, we all know that now, but this was 1984. I was 18. Sure, I liked Frank, but I didn't think he was cool. What the hell did I know? I was a kid, for chrissakes! I have sung this song at weddings, piano bars at Frank's Steakhouse, and the Paddock, not to mention karaoke joints around the world. What a lyric by Johnny Mercer: "Like painted kites, those days and nights, they went flying by/The world was new beneath a blue umbrella sky." And what a powerful Nelson Riddle arrangement of a Henry Meyer composition! It swings, baby! the version on my Spotify playlist is an older Frank, live at Radio City, from 1990. The years in his voice adds another layer of depth to the poignant lyric.

6. João Gilberto, Meditação ("Meditation)


The bossa nova stylings of Antonio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto make for deeply satisfying summer listening. Gilberto is credited as creating this style, which take the beat of the samba but brings it to a stripped down, mellower context. Gilberto worked with the writer and producer Jobim to record some of the 20th century's most sublime melodies and lyrics. Depending on the translation from the native Portuguese, these songs can achieve the same Zen effect of Haiku, with nature, solitude, and meditation common threads that run between the art forms. Gilberto provides this evergreen Jobim song with his unadorned vocal style, which allows the listener to just soak in the melody, rest in the gentle samba sway, and ponder the rich lyric.

7. Chet Baker, "There Will Never Be Another You."


Chet Baker is closely identified with the "West Coast cool" offshoot of bop, which traded influences with bossa nova. One can here the similar "flat" style of singing, the relative straightforward presentation of the melody, and the gentle swing. There are few hard edges, but don't this stuff as "light." Chet's singing is deeply emotional and he was a real jazz player, surrounded by some of the best in the business when he tok to the microphone for his seminal Chet Baker Sings (1956)

8. The Rolling Stones, "Memory Motel"


Growing up on Long Island, we heard about this being written at and/or about the motel of the same name out in Montauk. This record, like many of the Stones' middle period, is actually quite underrated. This ballad screams 1970s summer and is one of my all-time fave Stones numbers. "When I asked her where she's headed for/'Back up to Boston, I'm singing in a bar.'"

9. Elvin Bishop, "Fooled Around and Fell in Love"


Elvin Bishop was one of those guitarists who had an act under his own name but had his biggest hit with a guest vocalist, Mickey Thomas, a top blue-eyed soul singer who went on to become the lead singer in Jefferson Starship. This smash was peaked at number three on the charts in May of 1976 but was all over the radio that summer, hence its effective placement in movies like Boogie Nights and Summer of Sam. It has that "burned out at the end of a hot summer's day" feel to me, driving home all sunburned at the beach.

10. Grateful Dead, "U.S. Blues"


As I said, I am unapologetically a child of the 1970s, and this is an shameless summer anthem, filled with images of Americana, name-dropping the likes of P.T. Barnum and Charlie Chan, flag waving and bits of other old-timey summertime fun.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

CoTW 108 - Jersey Girl



I've been going to Cape May, NJ since 1986, the year I met my own Jersey Girl at UMass. Despite growing up on nearby Long Island, NY, I did not know much about "the Shore," as it is known south and west of the Tappan Zee and north of Delaware Bay. As a teenager, my mother used to make occasional trips down to Wildwood and that town still retains its honky tonk boardwalk feel. It is similar in reality to what people now unfortunately picture, thanks to the MTV sensation, "Jersey Shore." Most, almost all, of the Jersey Shore is nothing at like that depicted in that unfortunate cultural blip. Wildwood, however, is the kind of place that has an insurance fire at the Pier almost every winter and continuously struggles to reinvent itself, whether it be a preservation and celebration of its authentic 1950 Doo Wop culture and architecture, or trying to lure a minor league ball team. I, of course, will always fondly remember the transvestite shows at the (F)un Spot Cabaret, recalled in this past post.

The city is so close to charming Cape May that is a jarring study in contrasts. I came to this town for the first time 25 years ago and fell in love with it. Shhh, almost no one in New England knows about it. People around here think the Cape has the best beaches, or shockingly, Maine. Sure, Maine is beautiful to look at. And I love the Cape and spend a lot of time there, the outer Cape beaches are stunning. They are just different from the Jersey Shore. See, I like to actually go in the water and enjoy it for more than 10 minutes without freezing my balls off, which I can not do in most of New England. I also like long stretches of fine sand and real surf. And I like being able to walk along a promenade and going for an ice coffee and a felafel roll-up. Not many would expect me to be a beach person. I dig the beach. I need an umbrella to keep my precious alabaster skin from frying like bacon, but I love the beach, especially with kids and boogie boards.

I look forward to going every year, despite the truly horrific traffic down the Garden State Parkway which usually turns what should be a six-hour trip into a nine-hour stop-and-go vein-popper. My kids are educated in the finer intricacies of profanity as I pund the steering wheel. We used to take Laura's Pinto down. It was white. Red bucket seats. No AC. No reverse. Then we graduated to taking the Impala I inherited from my grandfather. I would not be able to do that without taking out a second mortgage right now. Same goes for the old Buffalo Tom Dodge Ram van, which was our next set of wheels and was almost the length of Rhode Island. Wait a minute, when exactly did I go from aspiring to be Keith Richards to becoming Dave Barry?

We used to stay at my mother in-law's little house. Then the kids came and we needed to get our own place. We have been renting the same house a block from the beach for three years. We shake off the traffic nightmare with a gin-and-tonic or two, and leave the car parked for more or less the rest of the trip. Everything is walking distance down old gaslit (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) treelined streets of Victorian, Shingle-Style, and Craftsman homes, people enjoying sips out on the front porches. There are world-class restaurants, great cycling routes, arcades for kids, and bars with live music. In fact, there remains a pretty decent jazz scene alive in Cape May. On my last night there, I have made a little tradition of going our for a nightcap on my own after everyone else has gone to bed (I am the only night owl in the family). Last year, I stumbled into the famous Mad Batter, where we usually have brunch a couple of times a trip, shuffled up to the bar for a G&T and ended up staying for a few more, as this singer named Lois Smith floored me with her vocals. Check out that link. She just sat at the bar with a wireless mic as the band played behind here. There were maybe five people at the rectangular bar. We chatted between songs. Lois is also a gospel singer.

Here is my "live at the dining room table" version of one of Tom Waits' most accessible songs. This is a real Brill Building/Bert Berns-like number from Heart Attack and Vine. You can read my essay on the song at Allmusic.com from back in the old days. It will always have special resonance for me and any other Joe married to a Jersey Girl.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Indian Wrestling

I grew up with a guy, let's call him Neil Eruzioni. His father was a barber and - at least back then, when I was growing up in New York - used to cut the hair for wise guys who "played bocce" at the... let's call it the "Fisherman's Club," an Italian-American social club. Neil's mom was a large woman, older than my parents. They lived near the downtown village.

Neil was a fantastic drummer -- one of the best musicians any of us knew in those early adolescent days. Problem was, he liked jazz fusion and we liked the Stones and Neil Young, primarily. He is still a great drummer and I still like the Stones and Neil Young primarily. But now, I think Neil also like the Stones and Neil Young more than the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

One day, Neil was telling me about how his mother would break into uncontrolled hysterical laughter at the mere mention of the phrase, "Indian wrestle." Indeed, if for some reason Indian wrestling was being televised, say on the "ABC's Wide World of Sports show," she would also lose it. Basically, if she just brushed up against the concept of Indian wrestling on any level, she would lose it. 

I doubted this whole story a bit. But our mutual friends present testified to the veracity of these claims. And on the whole, I am pretty gullible, and was even more acutely naive back then. No one could explain it, the tale went.

Then I moved away. In some of my idle time of lonely exile in the high pines of Medfield, Massachusetts, it occurred to me that I had been had with this whole "Indian wrestle" business.

I was back for a visit about half a year later and Neil's dad gave me a crew cut. And the band got back together for a jam, for old time's sake. At least, this is how I remember it. We often practiced at his parents' house. This is how it goes for drummers. They would rather make Faustian bargains with their parents to allow amateur rock bands rehearse in their basement than pack up, lug, and unpack all the equipment.

One day, during a break from band practice, we were sitting around the Eruzioni's living room.

"Neil," I began. "You probably don't even remember this. But a while back you told me this story about your mother. It was about how she would laugh..."

"At the words 'Indian Wrestle.' Right," he answered. "What about it?"

"Well. That was not true, right? I asked. "I mean, you guys were pulling my leg."

"You don't believe me?" He asked. "You've never seen it?"

I made a skeptical "oh, come on" face.

He put up his index finger. "Ma!" he yelled. MA!!"

"Yes, whattaya want, Neil?" We heard his mother's voice from the kitchen.

"Come here! Ma, come in here!"

"OK, OK," she was saying as she came through the dining room and leaned against the doorjamb, drying something with a dishtowel. "Whattaya want."

Neil paused, looked her in the face, and said, blankly, "Indian wrestle."

She started to laugh. Sort of a normal laugh. But then it began bubbling up. And soon, like in a manner of a few seconds, she was in absolute, unbridled hysterical laughter. I'm talking tears. Catching her breath, she left the room. Laughs still emanated from the kitchen.

We could all not help but laugh along with her. Neil just smirked. It was something he grew up with. No one has ever explained it. His mother grew up with this... this little quirk. Something way back in her brain is tickled by the concept of, the name "Indian wrestle." Something from the past.