No, it's not Vincent Price reciting The Raven. It's Bob Dylan singing at the Grammys

Watched the Grammy’s Monday night. It aired Sunday, but I recorded it so I could skip the commercials. At 3 hours and thirty minutes, it’s a long haul.

I don’t know, is it me or did the new single Lady Gaga debuted sound exactly like Madonna’s “Express Yourself”? Maybe not exactly but . . . How about Lady Atebellum’s “Need You Now”? Ever hear a song by the Alan Parsons Project called “Eye in the Sky”? It was a pretty big hit in the early 80s. The two songs sound a lot alike to me. Where did all the creativity go? Long time passing . . .

Then there was Muse with “Uprising” – reminded me of Urial Heep’s “Easy Livin” (plus maybe something by Billy Idol) and “Call Me” by Blondie, especially the latter. Yep, there is nothing new under the sun.

Update: Glenn Beck says Muse’s Grammy performance was a “call to revolution.” He adds, “Now, you have to remember these are Europeans, and they have been degraded for a very long time. Really, since the beginning of time.” In light of that, I have to say I simply love Muse. They’re great! Really.

I want to go back to Lady Gaga. Arriving in an egg. The outfits. Hasn’t that schtick been done to death already? And by people with personalities? Also, I gotta say that I am bored with dancers. I thought that whole thing would have died off by now. I think some of Lady Gaga’s dancers were dead. Now for a change of pace, one group had bicyclists.  It was different, but can’t anyone just sing a song anymore without making a big production out of it?

Speaking of which, I could not believe I was watching Cee Lo (who I like) channeling Elton John and accompanied by Muppets, with Gwyneth Paltrow (who was not too bad). I think Elton sang with the Muppets, too. Deja vu all over again.

Did I like anything about the Grammys show? Well, the tribute to Aretha was pretty good. I like the Eminem + Rihanna + Dr. Dre performance. I even liked Babs. Most of the time I can’t stand her. Overrated in my opinion. “Evergreen” is the only song she’s ever done that I enjoy. Was Kris Kristofferson drunk? He seemed kinda loopy . . .

Speaking of drunks . . . Bob Dylan is so incredibly gifted as a chameleon that he was able to overcome the completely embarrassing (and drunken) acceptance speech for the Lifetime Achievement award in 1991. And I love the man. Always have. Always will. But even I, a true blue, die-hard, stone Dylan fan has just got to say: Bob? Time to quit while you’re still ahead of the game, man. You’re sober now. You should know what you’re doing. Don’t destroy the memories from all those wonderful concerts of yours I attended. Please.

Well, in spite of Bob’s utterly destroyed voice, “Maggie’s Farm” was a rousing number, and Bob seemed to be enjoying himself. He even allowed himself to smile a couple of times.

Mick can still get the ya-yas out, but I wonder about the hair. Dyed for sure, but is all of it real?

Mick Jagger’s performance was easily the best of the night for my money. The only other number that came close to having the same energy was The Arcade Fire.  However, the prospect of watching the 67 year old Rolling Stone (my all-time number one fave rave band) cavort on stage as though he were 25 was not one of the things that drew me to the telecast. In fact, I kind of dreaded it. But, damn, he had the fire and he lit it. Old fogies rule.

I also seem to recall that they found time to hand out a couple of awards, and I don’t know about you but I am totally pissed that they passed over Justin Bieber as Best New Artist. Giving it to some girl with talent . . . There’s just no justice in this world . . .

And here’s some advice to future Grammy performers from a veteran viewer of Grammy telecasts: LEARN HOW TO LIP SYNC.

Now that I have all that off my chest, I feel better. Maybe I have turned into my parents, but I just don’t get today’s music. There’s something missing and creativity (or the lack thereof) is only part of it. But, you know, I hear a lot of young people say the same thing. It doesn’t have the same heart, the same soul, so as someone once sang, give me that old time rock and roll.

Hope seems like a good theme for this week. This is a song I wrote and recorded in early 2002, just a few months after 9/11. It’s not going to rival anything Dylan or Elvis Costello have ever written, but I’ve heard worse. As for the video portion, I put together last evening on the spur of the moment.

Lyrics below. For email subscribers, here is a link.

Promise of Hope

I woke up one morning
And the world had turned around
There was fire and buildings tumbling down
Fear had taken the high ground
But I held on to a promise of hope

There’s a shadow in the space of where we’ve been
And voices that say we can’t go back again
The horizon seems as lost as the world we’re in
Searching for a promise of hope

We need hope to guide us
We need a promise to carry us home

Sometimes I feel like I’m out here all alone
But if I see you walking by I’ll help you carry your load
Together somehow we’ll get down this road
We’re headed for a promise of hope

We need hope to guide us
We need a song to carry us home

David Riley

Here’s a short piece of original music. An instrumental that I suppose falls into the “ambient” category.

It’s called “Eastern Evenings.”

Click on the toggle in the right hand corner to view in full screen.

I realize now that there are no Horned Owls in Asia. Oh well. Cool pic, though.

The cover of "Absolutely Free": Zappa and his pumkin

I suppose this should be filed under Nostalgia: In yesterdays post, I mentioned the late, great Frank Zappa. It got me to thinking about him, and while looking around on the Internet, I discovered that Sunday was the 44th anniversary of the release of the first Mothers of Invention album, Freak Out!

This was a landmark record, one of the very first rock concept albums, as well as one of the earliest double albums. A mixture of pop/rock and experimental music with satirical lyrics that was unlike anything you had ever heard before. Produced by the legendary  Tom Wilson, who had produced three albums and one single (“Like A Rolling Stone”) for Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel’s debut album, and The Velvet Underground for the Velvet Underground.

Freak Out! was followed a year later with  Absolutely Free, the one I especially liked, featuring songs like “Plastic People,” which I mentioned yesterday, “Brown Shoes Don’t Make it” (“Quit school, why fake it?”) and “Son of Suzy Creamcheese” (“Oh, mama, now, what’s got into ya?”). The Mothers’ third album, released in 1968, was We’re Only in it For the Money (“Hi, I’m Jimmy Carl Black, the Indian of the group!”). Those were the ones I had and listened to over and over again.

Zappa was an iconoclast in an iconic era. He poked a big hole in the tapestry of the counter-culture, put his head through and stuck his tongue out at anyone so hip they were lame. The Beatles, San Francisco, the hippies, represented the idealist, optimistic flavor of the ‘60’s. Dylan left that all behind even as he was becoming its ultimate figurehead. The Rolling Stones reflected the dark underbelly of peace-love-dove but that was mainly because it had always been their business plan to be the opposite of the Beatles. To my mind, only the Velvet Underground came close to what the Zappa and the Mothers were doing. However, instead of sarcastic humor, the Velvet Underground, a product of Andy Warhol’s Factory scene (the antithesis of the California hippie vibe) wrote lyrics full of dark poetry tinged with a sense of fatalism.  Not that the VU lacked humor, but it was very, very dry.

A self-taught musician, Zappa’s tastes ran from ‘50’s Rhythm and Blues to avant garde composers such as Edgard Varèse. He mixed rock music with jazz and classical, and those lyrics held nothing sacred.

He was very intelligent guy, and courageous, more than willing to fight for what he believed in. I remember his testimony before the US Senate Commerce, Technology, and Transportation committee in 1985, when he attacked the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC),  co-founded by Tipper Gore, and denounced their plan to label records with  “sexual or satanic content” as a form of censorship. He was angry but not bitter. I seem to remember he and Tipper liking each other.

He died much too young, at age 52 in 1993, a victim of cancer, and as I think about ‘ol Frank, I wonder would he have thought of the Clinton scandal, George “Dubious” Bush, 9/11, Osama bin Laden, Barack Obama. What about this somewhat depersonalized Internet age? Would he dig Lady Gaga, or just gag? Who knows?

Anyway, here is a tip of the hat, and a look back, at the Tao of Zappa:

Beware of the fish people, they are the true enemy.

Well, I believe that those energies and processes exist. I just don’t think that they’ve been adequately described or adequately named yet, because people are too willing to make it all into something that supports a religious theory of one flavor or another. If you start defining these things in nuts-and-bolts scientific terms, people reject it because it’s not fun, y’know. It takes some of the romance out of being dead. . . because of people’s desires to have eternal life and to extend their influence from beyond the grave. . . all that Houdini type stuff. . . but basically, I think when you’re dead . . . you’re dead. It comes with the territory.

The whole foundation of Christianity is based on the idea that intellectualism is the work of the Devil. Remember the apple on the tree? Okay, it was the Tree of Knowledge. “You eat this apple, you’re going to be as smart as God. We can’t have that.”

The essence of Christianity is told to us in the Garden of Eden history. The fruit that was forbidden was on the Tree of Knowledge. The subtext is, all the suffering you have is because you wanted to find out what was going on. You could be in the Garden of Eden if you had just kept your fucking mouth shut and hadn’t asked any questions.

I searched for years I found no love. I’m sure that love will never be a product of plasticity.

My best advice to anyone who wants to raise a happy, mentally healthy child is: Keep him or her as far away from a church as you can.

Scientology, how about that? You hold on to the tin cans and then this guy asks you a bunch of questions, and if you pay enough money you get to join the master race. How’s that for a religion?

The only difference between a cult and a religion is the amount of real estate they own.

I think it is good that books still exist, but they do make me sleepy.

Communism doesn’t work because people like to own stuff.

It has never mattered to me that thirty million people might think I’m wrong. The number of people who thought Hitler was right did not make him right . . .  Why do you necessarily have to be wrong just because a few million people think you are?

I don’t give a fuck if they remember me at all.

Some of us remember.

Donovan and Dylan

Yesterday was the birthday of a singer and songwriter named Donovan Leitch. He turned 64.  In September of 1965 he had a hit with a song called Universal Soldier. He was one of those people who sang about peace and love.

The first concert I ever attended was Donovan at the Loyola Field House in New Orleans. He played solo with just an acoustic guitar. I can still remember how his beautiful voice seemed to float in the air like incense.

Some considered Donovan to be a lightweight, a would-be Dylan, a copy-cat. I gave him more credit than that. He could be rather syrupy at times, and he didn’t have the hard edge that Dylan had.  Even so, to my mind, Sunshine Superman was one of the best albums of that period and I think it helped pave the way for the prog-rock to come.

Donovan was also responsible for turning me onto Eastern philosophy. Partially responsible, along with the Beatles. I think it was in the summer or fall of ’67 that Life magazine ran a big spread of the Beatles and Donovan and the Beach Boys going to India to hang out with the Maharishi. A lot of great color pictures. Everyone looked very cool. I thought Eastern spirituality was very cool, and so did many others. All of the sudden my favorite rock artists started turning out music that was Eastern flavored and they all had their own gurus.  The Rascals got into Swami Satchidananda and Integral Yoga and for the Who it was Meher Baba. I can’t remember the others.

The Beatles disassociated themselves with the Maharishi, after he allegedly hit on Mia Farrow in Rishikesh, which inspired John Lennon’s song on the “White Album” called Sexy Sadie. Donovan became involved with some other guru whose name escapes me now. I think Mike Love was the only one who stuck with Maharishi and TM.

At first, I was merely aping my heroes. I wanted to be cool, too. However, there was something more going on. I wanted to find my own religion. Technically, I already had one. I was a Christian, a Presbyterian to be specific. But at that time I lived in New Orleans and I was disgusted by the way the men in the church I went to acted so pious in the pews on Sunday mornings and then told “coon” jokes outside when the service was over. It made me feel uncomfortable about Christianity. I blamed the religion instead of the men, even as Dylan famously put it, they were not to blame, only pawns in some game. I came to understand that prejudice, as we used to call it, was a form of brainwashing handled down from generation to generation.

In any event, Christianity no longer spoke to me, if indeed it ever did.

The first book of Eastern philosophy I read was a book of quotes by Gandhi.  It’s wonderful to discover something at an early age that stays with you for the rest of your life. That book set the ideal of non-violence in my mind and it has never left.

Indirectly, Bob Dylan opened the door to Buddhism; it was through him that I found the Beat Generation: Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and Jack Kerouac-the Dharma Bums.

Buddhism made sense to me, although I didn’t understand it very well.  There weren’t a lot of books available on Buddhism then, and the one’s that were around, I found confusing. I didn’t understand Buddhism but it felt right.

The rest is . . . well, a long story, and it’s not what I wanted to write about in this post. I hate to admit this, especially since you have read this far, but I don’t really have any point to make here. I just wanted to say something about Bob Dylan.

Bob also has a birthday this month, on the 24th. He’ll be 69. Wayfaring to the Endless Further with the rest of us, he’s been on the “Never Ending Tour” since 1988 and I’ve seen between 20 and 25 of those shows. I can’t say that I have cared for much of Bob’s stuff since Time Out of Mind, but I hope he keeps on keeping on like a bird . . .

Now in Bob Dylan fan circles right now there is a big hullabaloo over these recent comments by Joni Mitchell,Bob is not authentic at all: He’s a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception. We are like night and day, he and I.”

She’s right, he is a plagiarist. Always has been. However, that is also part of the folk tradition and the great poetry he’s written by far outshines any individual lines he might have stole. I long for a bit more creativity from Bob these days, but I also imagine it’s tough being the greatest living songwriter and having to come up with new material, which some will invariably  compare to past work.

One thing that has amazed me in the last twenty years or so is how young people are drawn to Bob. I once sat next to this nineteen year old kid at a Dylan concert at the Greek Theater (I was in my forties then) and he was raved enthusiastically about his admiration for Bob like he was the greatest thing since sliced bread. What was it that fired a guy his age up about an old man like Dylan? If you are a Bob fan, you know the answer to that. If you’re not, then it doesn’t matter.

I would like to introduce you to a young man who is also a Bob fan and every Friday on his blog it’s Bob Dylan Friday! He is obviously a guy with excellent taste in music. His name is RT and he just wrote a literary essay on Mr. Dylan, so check it out. The blog is called sometimes rhymes.

Well, that’s all I wanted to say. I know it was “too much of nothing,” but that’s the breaks. Just wanted to tip my hat to Donovan and Dylan. Their music has enriched my life and pointed me in many wonderful directions. Happy birthday to both.

Here’s a YouTube link to Donovan’s song based on the Heart Sutra: Nirvana.

And here’s a YouTube link to me doing a Bob Dylan song (Yeah, I know, I misspelled the song title).