Monday, July 27, 2009

Never again, a long, cold winter

Two waves; two songs; one vision

Fine, you have your wish come true now. I am out the door Monday morning (well, by late morning, anyway). I will drive north, destination unknown. I will look for seclusion. This will be short. Maybe time with a canoe paddle in my hand; maybe not. Maybe time with a Colt 1911 in my hand; maybe not. I anticipate a return by Thursday evening. I have done "blind jaunts" such as this in the past, and not once have been disappointed in the outcome.

In the meanwhile, here are two more photographs taken of two different waves on two different days smashing onto the same rock on a Lake Superior shoreline. Perhaps, what appears to be a leaping spray of water really is a Manitou rising from the Lake. The location where these photos were taken is known as the Black Rocks.

Joining the two photos are two more songs from the band known as Dokken, "Alone Again (Without You)" and "In My Dreams." Don Dokken, of course, is the lead singer, while Reb Beach is lead / rhythm guitar in "alone" and George Lynch -- a genuine master of guitar strings -- is the guitar soloist in "dreams." I love this rendition of "dreams." I love any rendition of "alone."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Where my heart dwells

Lac de Superior or Nadouessious

These three photographs obviously are not mine. Never in 1,000 years could I take photos as remarkable as they are, but, thanks to good fortune, I stumbled across them. Although it might not be easily recognizable at first glance, these three photos are of the same point of land on Lake Superior. Most remarkable of all in the sense that I stumbled onto them, these three photos show the precise, exact and specific waters off the shoreline of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in which I learned how to handle a canoe on "big water" -- on Lake Superior.

I learned how to ride with the waves and atop the waves, how to use the waves rebounding off boulders to make my way along a rocky coastline on a stormy day, how to slip and slide my way past the waves, and, most importantly, how to feel as one with the water and the wind and the rocks. I shudder simply from thinking of it, from the memory of it -- trepidation turning into confidence and then into exuberance.

There only have been two things I have real, natural-born, instinctive talent at, neither of which is a particularly practical or an everyday useful sort of skill. One is handling a handgun at any range, in any light, in any weather, in any circumstance. The other is handling a canoe in any water, in any light, in (almost) any weather, in any circumstance.

The chapter heading here, incidentally -- Lac de Superior or Nadouessious -- is taken from a reproduction of a French map of this region published in 1719. This was Lake Superior, or the lake of the cut throats, the lake of the Sioux, who were about to be pushed south and west, and who already had been replaced by the Ojibwa on the northern shores.

Summer flies -- why, oh, why can't I?

Isle Royale

An island known as Isle Royale lies a few miles offshore from Minnesota on Lake Superior, but is part of the state of Michigan. It is a national park. It is wild and beautiful, with moose and wolves among the notable occupants. At about 45 miles long and nine miles wide, it is not a small island. There are many trails to hike but, personally, I think it preferable to explore by water.

The first video posted here was created by some folks who used kayaks to cruise the waters around the island. The music accompaniment is "The Bridge," by Bradley Joseph, a piano and orchestral piece which might be a relief for those who during the past few days have taken the time to listen to heavy-duty rock, Minnesota style, in the form of the Vixens.

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

The second video posted here is "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." The Fitzgerald was an iron ore carrier that went down with all hands during a storm on Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. For those not familiar with Lake Superior, the gales of November, with the seasons in change, are legendary for their ferocity. Winds reaching 80 miles an hour and waves running 25 feet in height were reported the evening the Fitzgerald was lost.

While the video features a song written and sung by Gordon Lightfoot, there actually is considerable footage of the Fitzgerald both atop the Lake and resting on the bottom. Also present is the actual radio transmission between the Coast Guard and another ship, the Arthur M. Anderson, which had been trailing the Fitzgerald by about ten miles and whose crew had witnessed it disappear from the radar screen.

The Fitzgerald had departed Superior, Wisconsin, with a cargo of 26,116 tons of taconite pellets consigned to Detroit. The ship encountered increasingly heavy weather, and sank in Canadian waters about 17 miles from the entrance to Whitefish Bay and safety. There were 29 men aboard who died with their ship that evening. The exact cause for the sinking continues to be debated even now.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sic erat in fatis

It has been a long while since a painting involving a canoe has adorned my page. This one is by Frederick Remington, and is among a series entitled "The Great Explorers." If I recall correctly, the explorers here are Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Medard des Groseilliers, who ranged the American and Canadian wilderness in the 17th Century. The fellow standing in the midsection of the canoe certainly is dressed as a French dandy, at any rate. The two men, related through marriage, were among the first on Lake Superior. Remington was noted for portraying authenticity in his work, and this landscape resembles northern Minnesota and places in Ontario and Manitoba that I have seen. Remington is noted primarily for his sketches, illustrations and paintings of cowboys, Indians and cavalry troopers. Interestingly enough, he also worked as a newspaper reporter.

Stranger in a strange land

This has been a bit of a strange few days (weeks? months?) for me. More to the point, I have been running on three or four hours of sleep a night for more than a week now. It has ushered me into a strange world, reminiscent of Robert Heinlein's science fiction novel, "Stranger in a Strange Land," which I first read as a pre-teen boy. This, possibly, explains why I never matriculated to adulthood.

Although I have not worked at the newspaper since the end of May, for all of June and into July I had been involved in a task which required my presence two or three hours a day. And, while trying to readjust my sleep pattern from my "newspaper regimen" to a more normal day / night sequence which would accommodate "real life" and "real responsibilities," I have totally messed myself up. (Some would say I did that decades ago.)

Then, too, I have been trying to ease down on blogging by running a couple of songs with a paragraph or two of background regarding the music and the musicians. I would rather be writing other things, or writing nothing at all. (Try sleep depredation some time; the experience is fascinating.)

This is to say that I finally will be slacking off to what I talked about on June 30. Which was:

"As the length of daylight hours in the northlands begin to shorten (yeh, really), so does my time writing here. My thought is to leave "Sort of San Fran" alone for the most part to indulge in a sort of a hiatus. When the opportunity or a reason arises, I might not be able to resist temptation and produce a post. But, I am not going to worry about it or to think about it for the most part. I hope I will continue to make comments on the pages of others, but no promises to do it with every post you write."

In terms of plans, in a few days my mascot and I will embark on a brief canoe jaunt and some lakeside relaxation, maybe even do a few shallow-water dives.

So, with that I will join Messieurs Radisson and Groseilliers to paddle off into the wilderness, free and unfettered by shackles other than those I willingly place upon myself.

And, as the canoe fades into the mists of time, a voice from some 450 years distant into the future shouts from the treeline to break the silence: …. rock on ….

Here are a couple more from Vixen, in case someone besides me likes the girls' music:

The band is Vixen
The songs are:

Not a Minute Too Soon &
Rev It Up

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Music & la femmes fatales = deadly women

Vixen = female fox

Some people might wonder what folk, blues, country and rock singer Bob Dylan has in common with heavy metal rockers Jan Kuehnemund, Janet Gardner, Share Pedersen and Roxy Petrucci. They all are musicians, obviously, but no one would accuse Dylan of ever approaching a heavy metal sound with his songs. Well, not to drag on with the question, the answer is, Minnesota.

The four young ladies were part of the all-girl band, Vixen, which Kuehnemund started while still a high school student in Saint Paul. Please, now, do not go petty on me and say that this outfit's original name was not Vixen or that there were lineup changes over the years or that the band moved to Los Angeles before really hitting the big time. These were the primary members and Saint Paul was the band's birth place.

It came to me that while I have been touting music and musicians for a few days now, I had not tossed one of the all-female groups and/or individual performers into the mix. Well, here they are. I debated putting up a studio recording in which the sound is a bit better, or a live performance. A live performance always will be rougher than studio sound, but I went with a live concert from 1991 because it is evident how much fun these girls are having, which translates into a vibrant and exciting show.

In addition to this 1991 rendition, I also watched a few other versions, including a 2005 appearance in Sweden. My feeling while watching it was the same as I expressed a few days ago regarding Foreigner: Why do some people persist in continuing a career when their ability to perform has so visibly diminished?

There are millions of things to do in this world, so why, particularly in the case of those who work in the public eye, would so many continue to endure rather than leave the spotlight while they still are at the top of their game? Money and vanity, I suppose.

Whatever, here is a glimpse of Vixen at a time when these girls were among the elite of the hard rock world, performing undoubtedly the band's biggest song, "Living on the Edge of a Broken Heart."

By the way, take a look at the T-shirt Janet is wearing. "Scorpions." That is a girl with great taste in music.

The band is Vixen
The singer is Janet Gardner
The song is "Living on the Edge of a Broken Heart"

Where was I in the year 2000?

I know who Johnny Cash was; I know who Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson are. I might recognize a few other names should they be mentioned, but my knowledge of country music singers and songs is about as scant as that of anyone in the room.

The first time I heard this song, I thought it must be Dolly Parton. Who else could it be? Who else sings country? The song popped up on my truck radio as I was scanning for stations on a journey over unfamiliar roadways. In all probability, I did not hear it again for two or three years. Country Western, you know.

Somewhere along the line, however, I did learn the name of the song was, “I Hope You Dance,” by Lee Ann Womack, and that it had been a huge hit in 2000. What was I doing throughout the year 2000? Oh, yes. I remember. Never mind.

I did mention this singer and this song, and print some of the lyrics to it in one of my posts last March, and decided today to listen to it a few times once again. That this song is popular is evidenced by the fact that one YouTube version alone shows well over three million hits. In any case, Ms. Womack and her absolutely charming song seem like an excellent way to close out my week.

The band is unknown to me
The singer is Lee Ann Womack
The song is "I Hope You Dance"

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Music & the theory of time standing still

Yes, I remember "Jay" & the Americans

While step-pa-pa was listening to Richard Tucker out-Italian the Italian tenors, cara mia ma-ma had her own brand of sort of Italian music that she enjoyed. This is to say, she loved Jay and the Americans, and this band had one song with an Italian name. It was "Cara Mia" = "my beloved."

I probably enjoyed the music this group produced as much as my mother did, and maybe even enjoyed it more than I did the sound of Tucker. The roots of this band actually go back to the late 1950s, but its popularity came in the 1960s when David North agreed to adopt the name "Jay" and became the new lead singer.

The version posted here today is from a television show recorded in 1965. Be prepared to smile, if not outright laugh. Maybe television programming has not gotten more idiotic over the years; maybe it always has been sort of goofy, and we have been doomed since the very beginning. Whatever .... try to ignore the few brief seconds the "go-go girls" appear on screen, and just listen to the song. North had quite a voice, did he not?

The band is Jay and the Americans
The singer is Jay North
The song is "Cara Mia"

No, I did not & will not forget Queen & Freddie

I wonder sometimes, maybe others do, too, why I have not mentioned Queen and Freddie Mercury in these recent posts when I write about great bands and great singers. Many rock and roll enthusiasts would name Queen as the greatest band of all during the second half of the 20th Century and, I am certain, Freddie would secure countless votes as the best front man, if not actually the best singer, of his times. In my case, I think Queen and Freddie might belong in a category of their own, over and above all the other bands and all the other singers, especially those of the 1970s and the 1980s.

So, this time around, included below is Queen and Freddie doing "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," a song he composed, according to legend, in about ten minutes. This performance is from Queen's appearance at Wembley Stadium in London in 1986. Judge for yourself if they might not have been the greatest among the great.

The band is Queen
The singer is Freddie Mercury
The song is "Crazy Little Thing Called Love"

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Music & the way we are .... or were

You and I both, buddy ....

While the band Foreigner never was among my favorites, over the years some of the group's songs most certainly have been -- and, "I Want to Know What Love Is" tops my list. Listen to it and see if you do not agree. This is pretty darn good music coming from another one of those mean, nasty, raunchy rock and roll outfits, right?

Louis Grammatico, better known as Lou Gramm, had a powerful voice as a young man, but it faded over the years, as do the looks, bodies and, yes, even the voices of so many of us. Having a brain tumor reportedly had more to do with these changes in Gramm than did the natural processes of aging but, in the end, only the effects matter, not the process which created them.

Here are two renditions of this lovely love song, both live, the first from a 1985 concert and the second about 17 years later, at a 2002 concert. In a way, it is sort of sad watching the second version, with Gramm's less resonant voice, but absolute determination to give it his best effort. To quote our old and dear friend, Alfred, Lord Tennyson: "O death in life, the days that are no more."

Song : "I Want to Know What Love Is"

Recording No. 1 -- live performance, 1985

Recording No. 2 -- live performance, 2002

This one is for me ....

Without a doubt, I love "Ride of the Valkyries" from Richard Wagner's thunderous opera, "Die Walkure" = "The Valkyrie." It is the second of four operas that form "The Ring of the Nibelung." After briefly mentioning operas a few days ago, I thought I would add this note: I can safely say this is one opera I would love to attend. I am not certain more powerful music than this exists.

Possibly, my addiction to it stems from my Norse/Germanic ancestry. Perhaps, it simply comes from the audacity and the strength of the music. Whichever makes no difference. The music brings to mind the tale of a Viking telling a priest, "I believe in the strength of my own right arm." That goes for me, too.

For those not familiar with this mythology/religion, Valkyries are maidens who ride to battle fields to collect the bodies of the slain who died bravely, and then to escort them to Valhalla, the great hall of the chief god, Odin. This collection process is what is happening in this scene from the third act.

The presentation we are watching here, of course, is not a full stage production with costumes and choreographed movements. It is an orchestral arrangement, with the performers-singers (the Valkyries) all in a row, content to allow their voices and their facial expressions to tell the tale. The location of this event, the orchestra and the singers are unknown to me.

Incidentally, I need not personally worry about making it to Odin's great hall at Valhalla. The goddess Freyja already has promised me that I will have a seat in her great hall at Folkvangr. Freyja, among other things, is the goddess of love, beauty, fertility, war, battle, death, magic, prophecy and wealth. I think I have it made.

Opera: "Die Walkure" by Richard Wagner
Song: "Ride of the Valkyries"

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Music & the magic it envelopes

Put on the costume & no one sleeps

If you had been in Florence, Italy, in May of 1971, you would have had the opportunity to hear this voice and this tenor aria in person. Well, I was not there, either, but I heard recordings of this voice singing one song or another two or three or four times a week for a few years when I was a teenager.

There have been a few times when I have mentioned that I had a step-father who had lived on Long Island in New York for a decade and, when he returned to his hometown in Minnesota, brought with him an acquired love of opera, Broadway musicals and classical music in general. When he and my mother married, I became the beneficiary of hearing these forms of music. As you might imagine, few, if any, of my small town contemporaries were exposed to these types of music.

My step-father's favorite singer was Richard Tucker, an American who reportedly was more Italian in voice, demeanor and talent than any native-born Italian of his time. So, for the fun of it, here is an audio of Tucker singing "Vesti la Giubba" from Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci." This excerpt is from a live, May 1971, performance at Florence's May Festival. Riccardo Muti is conducting the orchestra. I picked this one to offer a taste of Tucker because everyone knows Florence is a mystical city, and because no one knows where he might find himself next May.

Following next is a clip of Tucker performing the sensually beautiful aria, "Nessum Dorma," from Puccini's "Turandot." The clip is from an "ancient" Ed Sullivan Show recorded in 1961. Too bad they did not permit Tucker to carry on the final note another five or six seconds. By the way, Turandot is one young lady a young man definitely does not want to lose his head over. Rock on, baby, and roll away ....

Song No. 1 -- Richard Tucker
Vesti la guibba = Put on the costume
Florence, Italy 1971

Song No. 2 -- Richard Tucker
Nessum dorma = No one sleeps
Ed Sullivan Show 1961

Will the real Fram please stand up

Just to make certain no one walks away from here thinking Fram is flipping his cookies (well, actually, he might be), here is a taste of the music more likely to be identified with him. David Coverdale is a fairly typical, fairly average (I think) singer who generally is identified with the bands Deep Purple or Whitesnake. Jimmy Page might be typical, but is hardly average. His name will forever be linked to the band Led Zeppelin, and he is among the premier guitar players of his era.

Coverdale and Page tied in together for a while in the 1990s. This is an amateur video from a performance in 1993 in Japan. Page is playing his "famous" two-neck, Gibson guitar for this piece, which is, "Take Me for a Little While." Too, bad the video is not better quality, but, alas, nothing is perfect.

David Coverdale & Jimmy Page
Take Me for a Little While
Osaka, Japan 1993

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Music & what was & what shall be

In commemoration of divorce

I was not going to post today, but suddenly it struck me like a lightning bolt: This is my anniversary. It was two years ago today my divorce was finalized. We had not been together since 2004, so my "adjustment period" has been a bit longer. Like five years? Lightning just struck again. Oh, well. In recognition of this momentous event, here are two (maybe I will come up with a third) songs from different ends of the music (and life) spectrum.

Andrea Bocelli should need no introduction unless, as the proverbial cliché goes, you have been living on Mars for the past decade or so. I have no doubt he is the finest tenor on stage today; if you have doubts, that is your problem. This is an old song: "Can't Help Falling in Love." Some of you might recall versions of this piece by Elvis Presley, Keely Smith (I love her voice), Celine Dion and even Bob Dylan. All versions are good, I guess (hard to wreck a beautiful song), but nothing in comparison to this rendition. I had a step-father who I fought with famously as a teenager and who introduced me to the sound of classical and Broadway music, as well as to opera. At least the old man knew what he was talking about in regard to music.

Following next is our favorite southern rock band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, performing "Simple Man." This is not the Lynyrd Skynyrd I offered a few days back singing "Free Bird." Many of those band members are dead, but some of the originals are still here and the singer is Johnny Van Zant, brother of the original vocalist, Ronnie Van Zant. Many think the two sound remarkably alike. If you have never attended a "good ol' boy" performance, you have no idea what fun a concert can be when compared to straight rock or, probably, to any other concert venue. I am talking fun; which is not the same as enjoyment. Get your boots, your cowboy hat, a Confederate battle flag, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and remember, you were born to be wild -- but only with the one you can't help falling in love with ....

So, in respect to me, myself and I:

Song No. 1
Andrea Bocelli, "Can't Help Falling in Love,"
is goodbye to the past and with dreams toward the future.

Song No. 2
Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Simple Man,"
is with thoughts to the present, uncomplicated, simple life.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Music & the distant past

Don't Think Twice & Baby Blue

One of the few (maybe only) music legends to emerge from Minnesota is Bob Dylan, who was born Robert Zimmerman in 1941 at Hibbing. Never heard of him? I do not believe you if you said "no." In any event, here is a pair of early recordings by Dylan, just for the fun of it. As you watch these performances (if you watch these performances) think of them in terms of their age -- about 45 years old, give or take. What were you doing 45 years ago; were you even here 45 years ago? Are Dylan and his songs more or less relevant today than he/it was two generations ago? Ain’t life something else? See there? Rock and roll is not the only music in my world.

On the top is,
"Don’t Think Twice, It's All Right,"
which appeared in 1963 on Dylan's second album.

On the bottom is,

"It's All Over Now, Baby Blue,"
which was among the songs on his fifth album, from 1965.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Music & the imagination

Where have the beautiful songs gone?

Here are three songs better heard than watched. No distractions to take you away from the melody and the lyrics. Videos are to songs what films are to books; sometimes they engage and enlarge, more often they diminish the beauty and the power of imagination. Close your eyes and drift along to wherever the power of your imagination takes you with this music from three very different sounds (the first two very beautiful sounds, as well) from three heavy duty rock bands.

Boston: A Man I'll Never Be -- 1978
A song for dreamers (wanna cry?)

Led Zeppelin: All My Love -- 1978
The poet's song (wanna dance?)

Metallica: Nothing Else Matters -- 1991
A song of strength (wanna smile?)

Something special ....