Saturday, November 19, 2016

Five Reasons to Miss Sharon Jones or A Beginner's Guide to Grief.

Why am I sad, as a music lover/collector/occasional musician about Sharon Jones? When you deal with older musics, you have several roads that you travel.

1. Wasn't _____ great?
2. Wasn't _____ overrated? You SHOULD be listening to ____!
3. ____ WOULD have been great if not for _____.
4. These new people remind me of ___________, but they aren't as good.

Number one is the most common. Number 2 is the stuff of much debate among crate-diggers, critics and some musicians. 3 is the stuff of biographical sketches and books. 4 is as well, and that encompasses the stereotype of the elders shaking their canes at the foolish youngsters.

Sharon Jones was number one. She was great. No, she wasn't the greatest singer, even in her own genre, but that does not detract from my point, especially since another talent, who also didn't have the best voice.

Sharon Jones was number one.

I've spent considerable time in my life collecting music. Over the years, you get used to disappointments. There are people that you cannot possibly see, folks that are a shadow of their former selves, talents that are still great, but neglected, people that are in your wheelhouse or pretend to be and are more popular than one feels that they should be, great work being done, but is buried by bad distribution and/or bad production, shifty management, mental issues and substance abuse.

I saw Chris Clark ("Love's Gone Bad") and while she looked great and she had a good time, her voice was shot. A friend of mine saw Thurston Harris at a mall, roaring drunk and not really able to perform. Eli "Paperboy" Reed was absolutely chewed up and spit out by Warner Brothers in their quest to find the male Amy Winehouse. I would have paid any amount of money to watch Guitar Slim enter a club riding on the back of another musician, playing his axe with an extra long cord. The Misunderstood's "Before the Dream Faded" is a document of a superior band that left behind amazing music and resulted, at the time in only ONE issued 45.

You can't say any of this about Sharon Jones. She had a good and sympathetic label, good production values on her recordings, good writing, a fine voice and an energetic stage show and national exposure. Songtracking has become something of an art nowadays. I heard "Black Monk Time" by the Monks in a Powerade commercial, "Who Knows?" by Marion Black was used in an episode of "Weeds". However, imagine my surprise and the elation of my internal cheerleading squad when I heard Jones and the Dap-Kings' version of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land".

I am of a certain age. I know full well that Jet Magazine used to list shows in which we made appearances. We NEEDED to see Black models because we needed to be told that we were aesthetically pleasing and worth something. Heck, I remember when it was just nice that we lived through a movie or a TV show. As of this writing, there is a Black President. Jones' achievements are muted somewhat by that, (for extremely good reasons!) but it cannot be stressed how big and significant Jones cultural contributions are.

The music scenes I deal with are quite esoteric and can even be quite catty. This person should be bigger, not this one, because they play the real whatever-it-is. This person/band is a carbon copy of that one. Their compositions are derivative, etc.

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings were quite rare. ALL of the elements came together:

1. They started well and got better album after album. At no time do you hear dilution or impending commercialism detracting from their sound.

2. The songwriting was top notch and MAN, did it sound good. There are few fussier about production values than myself. It's almost always better to see a group like this live, but their recordings are quite vibrant and a very just document of their legacy.

3. Daptone Records are easily obtainable and their roster is nothing to be sneezed at. Charles Bradley, Saun and Starr or Naomi Shelton are worth a listen.

4. She appeared on David Letterman's show, Conan O'Brien's show and she even was set to perform at the White House last month, which she had to cancel, due to pneumonia. She was a success, with decent album sales and YouTube views in the millions.

5. No less than James Brown gave her his blessing. In the documentary "Miss Sharon Jones" ("She warranted a D-O-C-U-M-E-N-T-A-R-Y!", go internal cheerleading squad, go!).

It was all in place. It was many of my dreams come true. I was glad that I saw her twice.

And now she's gone.

Bless you Ms. Jones. You showed us that it was possible. Thank you.

And that is why we should grieve.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Test Every Spirit. (1 John 4:1)

"Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world."

Congratulations. If you are able to read this, you have a computer and internet access. This means that the above applies to us even MORE than it did before.

For "right" or "wrong" reasons, Donald Trump has won the Nation's Highest Office. I was discussing the portent of this with a man who has studied politics in far greater depth than I and while he called himself a "Democrat with a small d" he said that he was casting his vote for Trump and he went on to list reasons why he would not vote for Hillary Clinton. When I brought up the lack of political experience, he brought up FDR's keen business sense and suggested that "experience" is overrated.

How do we categorize this? Was the last eight years so ruinous that it required a correction? Was it too much to ask of the country to back a Black man and then expect folks to elect a woman? Was it poor vs. rich? Urban vs. Rural?


For me, it all boils down to, "Hail the Conquering Hero" by Preston Sturges. The plot is that a soldier (Woodrow) comes back from the Marines, not from combat, but for medical reasons before he sees combat. To spare his Mother's (a war widow) feelings, some Marines build up a gallant story about him.

The "Hail the Conquering Hero" Theorem: "Politics is a very peculiar thing...If they want you, they want you. They don't need reasons anymore... they find their own reasons."

When we elected President Barack Obama, we elected not only a brilliant man, but we voted for a cool, telegenic African-American man and his brilliant (and equally telegenic) family.

When we elected President George W. Bush, it was, in part, a repudiation of the sexual politics of the previous President.

Now, we have President-Elect Donald Trump and an overwhelmingly "red" government to look forward to.

Personally, I may lose in this proposition. I am genuinely concerned about the future of my Health Insurance, for example. However, who are among the biggest losers in this race?

The print media. The Trump camp might say media, but Ernst Lubitsch once said that the advent of sound in pictures meant losses in the ranks of actors that couldn't speak, directors that didn't know how to do more than direct traffic and writers who thought they could get by without writing dialogue. Lubitsch also said, though, that producers didn't lose anyone and that was where the talent was.

The internet has given us GOBS of information, without necessarily expanding wisdom, but it and the advent of Craigslist, destabilized the financial foundation of many newspapers. A Presidential candidate just won and not only was he endorsed by only one newspaper, he was denounced by USA Today, which NEVER has endorsed any candidate before. Almost every major poll on either side of the political spectrum had him pegged as losing.

That's is, well, shall was say, huge.

We may lose some of these organizations. Who will survive and what will supplant them? At one time a poll was taken in the country and the most respected journalist was deemed to be...

Jon Stewart.

A man that had a comedy show based on current events. John Cleese, called it sad that there is a section of the populace that gets its news from "Daily Show"-type shows and I agree.

So, what do we do now? We do what I have said we must do in any situation.

Pray and act.

However, we must do what the Bible says to do, " not believe every spirit". We must learn to sift through information and find wisdom.

Pray and act.

We must tell our children that the level of discourse from this last electoral cycle does not represent this country at it's best. We must strive to be informed, for the devil is not in the details, he's in the glossing over.

Pray and act.

And to you millions who held their noses rather than vote, I hope you can face your ancestors with a good enough excuse as to why you didn't.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Taking the Ultrasonic Concept to a Logical Conclusion (Sadly).

This had to happen sometime.

Found in Translation

Gregorio Cortez.  A victim of racism and bad translation.
There are many online photos that poke fun at how language is mangled.  They can be funny, some are condescending.

How important is translation?  Gregorio Cortez was accused of stealing a horse.  He spoke no English.  When asked by a bad translator, "Did you trade for a horse?" he answered, "No", because the words for horse and mare are different.  What he was effectively saying in that "no" was, "I didn't trade a horse, I traded a mare." This one distinction led to a manhunt and lost lives.

There are some sites that make the world smaller.  I have an Italian pen pal.  She speaks no English and I speak no Italian.  Through Google Translate, we are able to communicate.

Take a look at this ad and continue reading after you've seen it.

In the spirit of fair play, let us see how Google vs. Elan pans out. This is a German paragraph about a band called the Rattles:
"Im Dezember 1960 wurden die Rattles in Hamburg von Achim Reichel und Herbert Hildebrandt gegründet. Am 3. Februar 1963 gewann die Band einen Wettbewerb im Hamburger Star-Club und wurde daraufhin die erste deutsche Band mit einem Engagement in diesem Club. Im Herbst desselben Jahres nahmen sie ihre erste Single auf. Danach ging die Band für fünf Wochen auf England-Tour mit Bo Diddley, Little Richard und den noch unbekannten Rolling Stones. "

Google says it means:

"In December 1960, the Rattles were founded in Hamburg by Achim Reichel and Herbert Hildebrandt. On 3 February 1963, the band won a contest in the Hamburg Star - Club and then became the first German band with a commitment to this club . In the autumn of the same year they recorded their first single . Then the band went five weeks England tour with Bo Diddley , Little Richard and the Rolling Stones still unknown."

Now, this is how Elan translates it:

"The rattles in Hamburg, Germany by Achim Reichel and Herbert Hildebrandt were founded in December 1960. On February 3, 1963, the band won a contest the star-Club in Hamburg, and became the first German band with a commitment to this club. In the autumn of the same year, they recorded their first single. After that, the band for five weeks on England tour went with Bo Diddley, Little Richard and the unknown Rolling Stones. "

RESULTS: Google did well with the first sentence, kept the date in the same order in the second sentence.  The last sentence is very stiff and misses a conjunction between "went" and "five".

Elan's first sentence is basically correct, but clumsy and they did not capitalize the Rattles' name.  They get the date in the proper format, but don't capitalize Star-Club and "won a contest the star-Club" makes no sense without an "in" that Google caught.  In the third sentence, Elan correctly puts a comma between "year" and "they". The final sentence has the same problem that Google did.  The Elan translator also knew enough to put periods in without spaces beforehand.

WINNER: (barely) Google.  I would have put it this way:

The Rattles were formed in Hamburg, Germany by Achim Reichel and Herbert Hildebrandt in December of 1960. In February 3, 1963, the band won a contest at Hamburg's Star-Club and became the first German band with a commitment to this club. That autumn, they recorded their first single. After that, they embarked on a five-week tour of England with Bo Diddley, Little Richard and the then-unknown Rolling Stones.

Yes, I changed the wording a bit, but if this were an audio book, which would you rather read?

Let's try Japanese.  This is from Cutie Morning Moon's page.  Both Google and Elan knew the text I put in was Kanji and did a translation.

Hopefully, you will see the original Japanese below:


ELAN: "In the middle of 72 years, was doing with Hiroshi and Haruo Yuya back. Vodka Collins of Godzilla and future members are working together, and I was.
Mickey Curtis and Monsieur back again doing the morning TV, daytime radio, night do live very busy days were. Then I'm only Monsieur back to do."

GOOGLE: "In the mid of 1972 , back of Yuya along with Hiroshi and Haruo also I was doing . We Godzilla and future members of the vodka Collins had been working together . Mickey Curtis and Monsieur is doing back another of the morning television , daytime radio , night is day busy enough to do a live there were many . Then I began to do only the back of Monsieur ."

Elan gets the date wrong and the first sentence is a mangle. The second sentence is also garbled, as is the third.  Google gets the date right, but the first sentence is bad as is the second and third.

I had to go the English version of this page to understand what was going on. This is what I believe it should say:

"In mid-1972, I was backing Hiroshi (Oguchi) as well as Haruo Yuya.  [The band] Godzilla and future members of the band Vodka Collins were working together.  Mickey Curtis and Monsieur (another band) were working in morning television, daytime radio and between the days and nights there was a lot of live work to be had.  I went back to playing with Monsieur."

WINNER: Neither.  Google gets a slight nod for a coherent sentence fragment, "...future members of the vodka Collins had been working together."

So, while Elan purports to be a better translator than Google, both have their faults and you cannot beat the human touch.  At least not yet, you can't.  The Elan ad is funny, but not truthful.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Friends and Netflix: A One Episode Comparison

Yes, I liked Friends.  I may be one of 158 people of color that does, but I liked the show.
Hmph!  Be glad you can see can see all SIX.

Please, no comments as to why you don't, it serves no purpose here.  If you don't, you don't and that's fine.  One comedy writer characterized it as "Six Characters In Search of a Smack in the Mouth". I liked it and yes, there are weak episodes and it has several odd logistical issues about it, but to quote another show I'm fond of, "...we should really just relax".

As for the lack of African-Americans in starring or even recurring roles, well, valid point, but a video that addresses this issue by naming "all" of the Black people in Friends with a speaking role is not only not horribly funny, it's rude and it commits the sin of not including some of the Black people that did have roles, such as Obba Babatundé as a dance instructor. I won't even provide a link to it.

Having said that, there was quite the noise made about Netflix streaming Friends. It's good, and there were many articles written about this, but I think one point was missed: these are bowdlerized versions!

What you are seeing are cut (syndicated?) versions of these shows.  How much?  Let's do an anorak's comparison of the Netflix version and the extended DVD version of the Season 8 opener, "The One After I Do", written by Marta Kauffman and David Crane, which was not only one of their funnier episodes, but it was the first to air after 9/11 (it was dedicated to the people of New York City).

If you have not watched Friends, there are spoilers ahead, so stop reading if you want to watch the series in order.  If you are a fan, take the time to watch the episode and read this while watching.

Here are the differences:

DVD - Starts with Monica and Chandler talking about the wedding and ends with Ross talking about how well their wedding went in comparison to all of his.

NETFLIX - Sequence omitted.  Uses the first scene after the credits as the "teaser".

First scene:

The following lines are on the DVD and not on Netflix
Ross (to photographer) - "You, take a LOT of pictures!"

Chandler (to Joey): And, be careful who you hug, OK? My father's in tears because you got blood on his dress!

NETFLIX: The "teaser" ends with Phoebe saying, "What? Well, he never said that to me!"

Everything after the Ed Begley, Jr. discussion has been cut (38 seconds)

NETFLIX: Ends this scene with a still of Phoebe and Rachel
DVD: Ends with a still of Jack, Judy, Ross, Monica and Chandler.

Second Scene: Intact.
(Anorak note: "Our Love is Here to Stay" is Monica and Chandler's first dance)

Third Scene: Intact.

Fourth Scene:
DVD only
Chandler (using a fork on his new shoes): Who's slippery NOW?
Jack Geller: Isn't that just the BEST feeling, rubbing a fork on the bottom of your shoe?

Chandler (upon hearing his Mother brag about her new lover, Dennis): Are my ears bleeding?
Nora Bing: Don't mind Chandler.  He's always been shy.

Fifth Scene: Intact

Sixth Scene:
Chandler: No, apparently they locked themselves in a Men's room stall.  Perhaps when they get out.(cut)
Joey: Aw, who am I kidding?  I belong in radio.
NETFLIX: Scene ends with Chandler's reaction to Joey's defense of his small feet.

Seventh Scene. - Intact.

Eighth Scene:
Ben: Dad, can you go back to your table?
Ross: No, apparently, little Molly Gilbert is enjoying her grown-up salmon en croute. (eats a kiddie hot dog)

ODD PAN AND SCAN MOMENT: For some strange reason, when Ross gets up from the table in disgust after being teased by the children, on the DVD he is shot in full-figure.  On NETFLIX he is in a closeup.  Why?

Ninth Scene:

Chandler(commenting on Joey's small feet):'s like he's running on tiny little pegs.
NETFLIX: Scene ends with Joey saying, "Hey!" and storming off.

Tenth Scene - Intact

Eleventh Scene

All lines after "You stole my moves!" were cut, which loses all of Judy Geller's lines and a very funny denouement to the dance sequence (26 seconds)

Twelfth Scene - Intact

Thirteenth Scene (during the credits)

Mona walking away and Ross smirking has been cut. (8 seconds)

It's still a funny episode in the NETFLIX version, but if you are a fan, try to find the DVDs.  Some episodes have commentaries and they are good as well(NewsRadio's, by contrast are done by people that do NOT want to do them).

For those of you who like this type of show, I highly recommend the first three seasons of BBC's Coupling.  Steven Moffatt, before Doctor Who (and thankfully, after "Chalk") wrote some amazing episodes and any critics who say that Coupling is a Friends knock-off are wrong, they are quite different and both have their merits.  Skip the American version but... can't see it on Netflix at this time.  Sorry.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

My Disdain for Entertainment Articles, Part Two

It has been announced that Jon Stewart will be leaving the Daily Show.  I will demur commenting on living in times that show that comedy show host has been considered one of USA's most trusted journalist, and I will not use this commentary to extol the show, even though I am fond of it.

What bothers me is that from the few articles (hardly a scientific sample) that I have seen such as this one from Time Magazine, by Tessa Berenson and Dan Hirschhorn leave out important parties.  This is amplified by the statement that Craig Kilborn started the Daily Show.

This is untrue.  Kilborn was the first host, but Madeleine Smithberg and Lizz Winstead were the creators of the show.  Also, the article mentions Stephen Colbert's stint on the Daily Show, but it does not state that he was hired before Stewart joined the show.

The Daily Show was quite a different beast in those days.  The show was less concerned with news and seemingly more concerned with making fun of people; take a look at this clip at about fifteen minutes in, or the Lewis Black segment at eighteen minutes.  Now, in all fairness, one does not end up on a show like this without signing a release, but the humor of those days felt much crueler, because the people that they mocked were not public figures.  About the most public many of the figures got was public access TV, which is known for varying standards of quality.

Kilborn's puckish attitude during these times may have hastened his exit, doing himself no favors by making some scurrilous comments about Winstead, however, the show was not without some charm. The "5 Questions" segment got some funny responses.  John Cleese was asked, "Why does English food suck?"  He very quickly responded, "We had an empire to run!"

Jon Stewart, who made his presence known to Comedy Central viewers with the clip show "Short Attention Span Theater" along with Patty Rosborough (who seemed to do an inordinate amount of laughing), along with his crew did the Daily Show a great favor by shifting the focus away the average person and focusing on politics and politicians.

The Craig Kilborn version of the Daily Show, had it ended when he left, would not be remembered as fondly as the current incarnation.  As a matter of fact, in his first show, Stewart does the 5 questions bit with Michael J. Fox and says after a stumble, "It's not my bit, what do I care?"

Kilborn has gone on to other ventures and even had a longer stint on the "Late Late Show" before Craig Ferguson took over, however, he has not gone on to anything of great note.

As stated in the previous entry, in times when information is easily obtained, DO YOUR RESEARCH.

Monday, February 9, 2015

My Disdain for Entertainment Articles.

It would be quite easy to look at the plethora of online sources and pick at them, but let's look at USA Today.  Brian (darn, such a nice first name) Mansfield wrote a listicle about the pockmarked record of the "Best New Artist" category in the Grammys.

There is the usual level of snark sans information (" But did anybody seriously think the daughter of Pat Boone had a career ahead of her as a major pop star?"), but let's look at the hard facts.  Remember that this category is supposed to be for artists just starting out.  At one time, Whitney Houston was considered not eligible for this category, because of some background vocal work she did on other albums.  So, what about Mansfield's optional choices:

Choice 4 (1978): Cheap Trick had released two album by 1978.
Choice 3 (1977): Hall & Oates had released FIVE albums by this point.
Choice 1 (1967): The Mamas and the Papas and Percy Sledge had both recorded two albums in 1966. Jeannie Seely recorded in 1964 for Challenge.  The oddest choice may be Simon and Garfunkel. They already had an album out in 1964, but they already had a hit as "Tom and Jerry" a full TEN YEARS before this.

USA Today would be better served by an article that didn't make it's choices so arbitrarily.