On Highway 61: Music, Race, and the Evolution of Cultural Freedom
Counterpoint (October 14, 2014), 384 pages
Kindle edition $13.99, Amazon paperback $15.61
Purchased during an Early Bird Books sale for $3.99
This book is Dennis McNally’s attempt to document the fight for racial equality and social justice in America through the nation’s popular music. The idea of Highway 61 is that it roughly parallels the Mississippi river, near which so much of the social justice movement had its roots. However, he begins with Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond outside of Concord, Massachusetts and ends with Bob Dylan in (mostly) New York, though he makes a token attempt to return to the Highway 61 theme in the closing paragraphs of the book.
McNally writes about the early music of the slaves before the civil war, and the white musicians who adopted their style, put on blackface, and made a living doing minstrel shows. He discusses the earliest days of jazz and follows the art form into the twentieth century, with the likes of Thelonious Monk and Louis Armstrong. In fact, a disproportionate portion of the book is focused on jazz and blues.
The final section is focused on Bob Dylan, though others in the folk movement, including Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul and Mary are mentioned. McNally describes how the group Peter, Paul and Mary was put together by promoter Albert Grossman, which I knew. That Grossman was also Dylan’s personal manager I didn’t know. But that explains why the group sang so many Dylan songs. McNally says of Grossman, “In a left-wing folkie world that valued spirit over finance, Grossman was a barracuda surrounded by dinner.” ‘nuff said.
McNally writes briefly about the relationship between Joan Baez and Dylan, but not enough to really make clear its importance to the music of each. But there are other books to discuss that. Positively 4th Street comes to mind.
I bought this book in the Kindle edition when it showed up in an Early Bird Books email for $3.99. It was well worth the price. But $13.99 full price for the Kindle edition? Maybe. Maybe not.
The Movie Musical!
Knopf (November 5, 2019), 730 pages
Kindle edition $17.99, Amazon hardcover $27.11
As you can see from the page count, this is a big book. Basinger presents a comprehensive history of the movie musical. She starts in the silent era, discusses a sort of hybrid in which the studios added sound to some sections of silent films (“part-talkies”), and then continues on to films with sound. Although she focuses a lot on films of the twenties, thirties, and forties, Basinger mentions movies released as late as 2018.
The author’s knowledge of the subject is encyclopedic, and she discusses scenes from some movies in what is at times excruciating detail. The book was nonetheless an enjoyable diversion from the struggles and travails of this most unhappy year, and Basinger offers many insights and behind-the-scenes glimpses. When discussing Broadway shows that were made into movies she distinguishes between filmed stage performances and shows genuinely adapted for film. She prefers the latter.
Basinger has some odd perspectives. She refers to certain Broadway adaptations from the seventies, including Fiddler on the Roof and Jesus Christ Superstar, as being not “truly successful.” Say what? In discussing Straight Outta Compton, she dutifully acknowledges the complaints of plagiarism, violence, and abuse of women, and then tells us what an excellent film it is. The author goes to great pains to explain how the opening of Meet Me in St. Louis is such an excellent example of how to start a musical because it lets the viewers know what to expect. She then later praises the opening of The Sound of Music, with its helicopter view of Julie Andrews singing the opening number on a mountain meadow. That scene, while spectacular and uplifting, gives the viewer no idea of what to expect in the movie, with its love interests and its Nazis.
But enough complaining. The book was both informative and fun to read, and if you enjoy movie musicals I think you will find it well worth your time.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all areas of our lives, even our radio listening.
When Terry and I lived in Gilroy our evening listening Monday through Saturday consisted of the internet stream from KCSM, the public radio jazz service in San Mateo. When we moved to Hemet in 2015 we began listening to the jazz stations in Los Angeles and San Diego. I wanted to avoid any nostalgia for the Bay Area.
After a couple of years, however, I switched back to KCSM. I decided that I could listen without undue melancholy or remorse, and I very much enjoy the evening hosts on the Jazz Oasis. When COVID-19 hit KCSM switched to a syndicated public radio jazz service, and we began listening to the Los Angeles jazz station, KKJZ, again. Evening host Steve Tyrell provided an upbeat mood in the midst of a time of pandemic, even if his music selections were a bit repetitious.
Recently, however, the engineering staff at KCSM figured out how to let the Jazz Oasis hosts prerecord their shows from home. It doesn’t matter that they are not live; hearing their familiar voices in the six-to-nine time slot is delightful and comforting in this stressful time.
The KCSM web site states, “Thanks to the College and our staff, especially engineers Rene Renard, Hanns Ullrich, and Chris Cortez, for helping the music to play on!” Terry and I thank them as well. Thank you, KCSM, for returning some peace and pleasure to our evenings.
I have always been serious about spices in my cooking, but when we did our kitchen remodel in Gilroy we added a built-in spice rack and I went ape-you know what. We bought empty spice bottles at Bed Bath and Beyond and filled them with spices from the good folks at Penzeys. At our house here in Hemet we have a spice drawer rather than a custom-built spice rack, but we still have just as many spices. We even have an overflow plastic spice organizer in the pantry.
The thyme is in our main spice drawer. The parsley and sage are in the overflow organizer. And rosemary? I haven’t given rosemary proper respect. In fact, when I went to do a recipe that called for rosemary a couple of weeks ago I realized that I didn’t have any. I bought some fresh rosemary from the produce department in the grocery store. A couple weeks later I had another recipe that included rosemary and I used what was left.
I realized I needed to to give rosemary a better spot in my spice pantheon. So I added it to my last Penzeys order, and it now has a spot in the main spice drawer, booting out a rarely used spice. Why it took so long, I don’t know, but the disrespect has been addressed.
P.S. Remember when we listened to music on vinyl in stereo? Remember that you could separately control the left and right speaker volume? You could listen to Simon and Garfunkel’s rendition of the English folk tune independently on one side and their anti-war chant separately on the other. That’s something that we can’t do any longer.
The University of Nebraska at Lincoln Singers, Pete Eklund, conductor at the First Plymouth Church in Lincoln Nebraska. Some great, soaring music!
It’s been a while since I’ve shared a John Rutter arrangement.
Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know that I began attending Pitzer College in Claremont in the fall of 1971 and graduated in the spring of 1975. I hung around Claremont for another two years before leaving California to open a new B. Dalton Bookseller in Laredo, Texas in June of 1977.
The radio station KNX-FM had a mellow rock format throughout the 1970s, and I was a regular listener until I hit the road for Texas. I have often thought about that station and reflected on how I’ve missed it, even after all these years.
I was surprised and delighted, then, when Richard Wagoner’s radio column, which appears in Southern California News Group newspapers, announced that KNX-FM has been reincarnated in an online form. You can find it at https://www.knxfm93.com. The stream is available in a variety of formats, so there should be a format available for whatever device you use.
Many of you know how much I love and how much I use my internet radio. Very shortly after reading Richard’s column, I added the Windows Media Player URL to the My Streams folder on my internet radio and then booted off the SiriusXM Coffee House preset to make room for the new KNX-FM stream.
It’s nice to have that familiar sound at the touch of a button.
One of my favorites, performed live by the Villanova University Pastoral Musicians during the concert “Unitas, Veritas, Caritas; Celebrating 21 Years of Pastoral Music.”
Wasn’t That a Time: The Weavers, the Blacklist, and the Battle for the Soul of America
Da Capo Press (November 6, 2018), 297 pages
Kindle edition $13.99, Hardcover $15.43
If you are interested in the history of folk music in America this is fascinating reading.
The Weavers were a highly influential folk group in after World War II and throughout much of the 1950’s. The book discusses the background of each member of the group and how their paths led them to form the Weavers. A large portion of the book discusses the group’s struggle with the blacklist. It was interesting to learn that blacklist pressure came not only from the House Un-American Activities Committee but from private organizations intent on rooting out people they suspected to be Communists or Communist sympathizers.
The author describes how the driving force behind the Weavers, the great Pete Seeger, left the group when the group consented to do a commercial jingle, which, ironically, never aired. Jarnow even describes the collaboration of the only female in the group, Ronnie Gilbert, with the next-generation activist singer Holly Near. In fact it was on Holly’s CDs that I first became familiar with Gilbert.
If the era and the subject matter interest you this book is well worth your time.
Arrangement by John Ferguson, First Plymouth Church, Lincoln Nebraska.