Sunday, February 26, 2006

Garrison Keillor

KeillorThe closest we have to Mark Twain today is Garrison Keillor. I first heard his A Prairie Home Companion in the summer of '83 and have been a regular listener ever since. I've laughed. I've cried. The music has been pretty good too.

Keillor has a way of making me feel good about being a human being; not a easy task these days. He is forever pointing us towards our best. I feel better each and every time he talks to me. He may be the greatest living American.

Like Twain he is a keen observer of mankind, its follies both personal and collective. When the spirit moves he can be devastating.

I would have loved to have written this. If anything he is too kind. Little Man in Salon, February 8th, 2006.

'Be well, do good work, and keep in touch." ®

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Rich Get Richer...

The gap between rich and poor has been growing since 1980, growing considerably according to U.S. Census data. The chart above tells the tale for North Carolina. Remember, this is not the gap, this is the change in the gap over twenty years.

With nothing to indicate that this trend will change I suggest we look towards our neighbors to the south, i.e. Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, etc., if we want to the glimpse what the future may well be for our country. Do we really want to structure our society like theirs, with a vast gap between the haves and have nots? We are headed that way, fast. At one time we offered our strong middle class as a model for the rest of the world. What will we have left to show them in the future - besides smart bombs and Wal-Mart - our shrinking Bill of Rights?

The full state-by-state report can be found here.

By the way, if you are viewing this from above the Dividing Line, here is the chart for Virginia. I wonder what the chart might look like without NOVA.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

That's SAINT Valentine to You

National Geo CoverI am sure every other blog today is about Valentine's Day. I thought about posting about the wisdom of a sitting Vice President walking about in a field with a crowd of armed men shooting whatever; but nah! I go with the flow.

Today on our newsstands two rather respectable magazines, The Atlantic and National Geographic, have cover stories about love. "How Do I Love Thee" explores the intersection of academic research and the internet while "True Love" in posits that love is a matter of raging brain chemicals often leading to frenzied state not unlike obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Duh! Any junior high school teacher could have told them that. Those of us with half a memory could give names, dates and places. I personally could have given quite an extended interview.

Will this mean we will see National Geographic and The Atlantic competing for same in the supermarket checkout line space with the National Inquirer or the Globe?

Anyway I would like to leave you with a description of the roots of Saint Valentine's Day, before the Christians tried to tone down the fertility festivals a bit. From Wikipedia:
In Ancient Rome, the day of February 15 was Lupercalia, the festival of Lupercus, the god of fertility, who was represented as half-naked and dressed in goat skins. As part of the purification ritual, the priests of Lupercus would sacrifice goats to the god, and after drinking wine, they would run through the streets of Rome holding pieces of the goat skin above their heads, touching anyone they met. Young women especially would come forth voluntarily for the occasion, in the belief that being so touched would render them fruitful and bring easy childbirth.
I suspect there was more to the celebrations later...

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Thanks, Wolfgang

FillmoreI missed this last month...
Music Stash Recalls When Rock Was Young


Two and a half years ago, a Minneapolis entrepreneur named Bill Sagan spent more than $5 million to buy a treasure trove of rock 'n' roll memorabilia: millions of T-shirts, posters, handbills, photographs, concert tickets and other items from the archives of Bill Graham Presents, the legendary San Francisco rock promoter that virtually invented the modern concert business in the mid 1960s.

But what neither Mr. Sagan nor the seller, Clear Channel Communications Inc., realized at the time was that the archives contained an even more valuable bonus: more than 5,000 live audio and video recordings made between 1966 and 1999, featuring artists varying from the Doors to Nirvana. The recordings were made at rock concerts that the late Mr. Graham ran or promoted. They were uncataloged and collecting dust when Mr. Sagan acquired the archive.

Today, the 55-year-old Mr. Sagan controls what may be the most important collection of rock memorabilia and recordings ever assembled in one business. Called Wolfgang's Vault - from Mr. Graham's given name, Wolfgang Grajonca - the company has a staff of 14, projected sales this year of $3 million, and nearly 20 million separate items in its San Francisco warehouse.Butterfield-Handbill

Having set up a business selling vintage rock T-shirts and concert posters on the Web, Mr. Sagan is only now turning his attention to the audio and video assets, where he faces a tremendous challenge. He is in the early stages of complex negotiations with artists, their representatives and record labels over the rights to sell the recordings on discs and as downloads. In the meantime, Mr. Sagan plans to begin "streaming" some of these recordings as Internet radio feeds on his company's Web site, which involves little more than paying royalties to organizations that represent songwriters.

The performances, many of which are professionally recorded and extremely high quality, amount to a sweeping, unheard history of rock during its seminal years and beyond. The archives include performances by artists including Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Pink Floyd, the Who, Tom Petty, Stevie Wonder, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Emmylou Harris, Aretha Franklin and Tracy Chapman, all of whom played shows put on by Mr. Graham. The are videotapes of early performances by Crosby Stills Nash & Young and from 1978, the Sex Pistols' last show for nearly 20 years, before their reunion in 1996.The-Who-Handbill

Though some of the recordings have leaked as bootlegs over the years, they contain some revealing moments that may surprise fans. For example, a recording taken from Led Zeppelin's first U.S. tour, in 1969 - when the band was opening for Country Joe & the Fish - finds lead singer Robert Plant displaying little of the rock-god swagger that would eventually become his trademark. Instead, he makes nervous small talk to the audience as guitarist Jimmy Page changes a broken string.

"I don't know if [Mr. Sagan] really knew exactly how much rich material he had," says Bill Thompson, the longtime manager of Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship, which played Bill Graham events frequently during the heyday of the San Francisco rock scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s. "This is a goldmine."

Mr. Graham's company mounted more than 35,000 concerts world-wide between its inception in 1966 and its sale, earlier this decade, to Clear Channel, which bought up a number of regional concert promoters during that era. Mr. Sagan bought the archive from Clear Channel, which had little interest in sifting through the thousands of items that were jammed into the company's warehouse.

Mr. Sagan and his staff spent their first six months in business doing nothing but organizing and cataloging the vast collection, much of which had been thrown haphazardly in cardboard boxes, and some of which had been damaged in a warehouse fire.Cream-Handbill

Today, on, shoppers can find individual tickets to the Yardbirds' July 25, 1967, show at the Fillmore West for $51 each (a $48 markup over the face value). Prints of photographer Joe Sia's blurred shot of a police officer arresting Jim Morrison on stage in New Haven, Conn., go for $550 to $750. Even the Rat Pack gets the collectible treatment: A black faux-tuxedo T-shirt commemorating a 1988 concert starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., costs $82.

But the music and video recordings are the most intriguing and commercially promising. Mr. Graham's company made the recordings partly for posterity's sake, and, in some cases, for a more base motive: adjacent to the Fillmore West was a restaurant owned by Mr. Graham. Rather than lose customers when concerts started next door, Mr. Graham installed a closed-circuit video system that let diners watch the show live - and also captured it on videotape.

When, or even if, the general public will ever hear or see many of these recordings is unclear, however.

The recordings were made legally; Mr. Sagan has a filing cabinet filled with documentation to prove it. But selling them will require various permissions and revenue-sharing deals - not only with the artists themselves, but often, too, with whatever record label they were signed to at the time of the show, or its corporate successor. In the case of dead performers, permission is required from their families or other heirs.

Mr. Sagan's employees have already digitized more than 1,000 audio recordings and sent them to engineers to have the sound quality cleaned up. Now they are in the process of seeking clearances to release the music. Mr. Sagan says he is in active discussions with two major record labels, and believes he is close to a deal for at least some music with one of them, although he declines to name either.Cream-2-Handbill

"Is it easy?" he asks. "No. But in some cases they're excited as hell they might be able to make some money of old bands."

Even with clearances, much of the material in the archives is simply not up to snuff for commercial release. "I don't think a large percentage of it will end up on CD, or in any monetized form," says Gavin Haag, who oversees the company's music-licensing efforts. For instance, he adds, there may never be an appetite for dozens of separate concerts by acts like Eddie Money.

Mr. Thompson, the Jefferson Airplane manager, says he is in "early discussions" with Wolfgang's Vault and Sony BMG Music Entertainment to sell the dozens of live recordings made of his clients at Mr. Graham's various venues. Sony BMG, a joint venture of Sony Corp. and Bertelsmann AG, controls the rights to distribute the band's recordings. Sony BMG and Wolfgang's Vault declined to comment on the continuing licensing negotiations.
I made quick trip to Wolfgang's Vault. I looked at some of the vintage items for sale and listen to streaming music from the Vault Radio. It brought back quite a few memories. I did not get to New York or San Francisco many times in those days. But when I did I found time to attend several of Wolfgang's productions. They were special enough that I kept souvenirs. Those programs, post cards and hand bills illustrating this post are mine. Mr. Sagan seems to think they are worth almost two grand.Dylan-Handbill

Isn't life interesting?

Oh, and I have one small poster he does not have. It is to the right. It is not for sale.

Where is that key to the safety deposit box?

Friday, February 03, 2006


nrpsSaturday night before last, in between trips to Virginia to assist with mother's various visits to the hospital, I spent the evening with the NRPS, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, the premier psychedelic cowboy band. It was a nice break, which I needed.

I heard the band this time at my favorite Charlotte venue, the Neighborhood Theatre. Last time it was Saturday afternoon, April 24th, 1971. They opened the music for Joe College Weekend at Duke University, playing on a low stage in the middle of the football field. I had drived down from Virginia were I was in my second year teaching junior high school. NRPS was following by The Grateful Dead, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Beach Boys, and sometime past 11:00 PM, Mountain. I was there for it all, sitting in the grass on the first row. This was about the time of the release their first album, long before Panama Red came to town. Of course last week's version of the New Riders has almost a completely new lineup.

NRPS started as a coffeehouse side project of Jerry Garcia and a buddy, John (Marmaduke) Dawson. Jerry wanted to learn peddle steel and John wrote many of the songs they first played. Jerry and John recruited other musicians as the spirit moved and started to pick up a following. They were soon joined by David Nelson, who once was considered a GD replacement for the very young - and a times struggling - Bob Wier. The trio formed the core of the NRPS and soon they were opening for the Dead.

As Jerry's side project began to cut into his main gig, Buddy Cage, an experienced peddle steel player was brought in. Dave Torbert claimed the bass spot from first Robert Hunter and then Phil Lesh. Spencer Dryden from the Jefferson Airplane took over the drum kit from Mickey Hart. The group's biggest hit, Panama Red, came in 1973. The lineup has been changing ever since.

Nelson and Cage anchor the band today. Nelson has moved to Mexico but he has played off and on as his heath has permitted. Jerry, Spencer, and Dave are, well, someplace else. But that Saturday night their music remained strong.