Monday, January 18, 2010

Songs resting upon their tongues

For my money, you just can't beat a live show.

When it's good, it's brilliant. The songs, the crowd, the energy, the magic. What a moment. It's hard to describe, but you know it when it happens.

A friend let me borrow a fantastic live album recorded by singer/songwriter Nanci Griffith in 1988 at a quaint place called Anderson Fair in Houston. I'd love to go there. It sounds like my kind of joint.

Here, let's let Nanci describe it:

"That music hall...with it's blue upright house piano and nights of music when it was so crowded you couldn't find your pockets to put your hands in them...where the quality of an evening isn't measured by the proprietor according to the amount of beer and wine sold across the bar but by the contented faces of patrons who leave his red brick floors with songs resting upon their tongues."

Pretty good, huh?

I've darkened the doors of a few such haunts. The Ark, in Ann Arbor, Mich., comes to mind. So does the Down Home in Johnson City. You're there to hear the music. If you want to talk loud and make an ass of yourself, hit the exits.

The album is a good one. Nanci opens with Patrick Alger's "Once in a very Blue Moon" and sings a dozen songs, including Eric Taylor's "Deadwood, South Dakota" and her big hit "Love at the Five and Dime."

I once tried to see Nanci in Knoxville. It was a benefit for the Tennessee Theatre. Sold out. Shucks.

She sings with such grace, and yet with such feeling, sure to send goosebumps slithering down your spine.

What I would have given to have stepped in for "One Fair Summer Evening" all those years ago. As it is, I listen to my CD, lose myself in the harmony, and anticipate the day I find yet another such place, where the beer is good, but the music is better, and songs rest upon your tongue.

Friday, January 08, 2010

The King turns 75

My goodness gracious. Is Elvis really 75?

I say "is" because it doesn't feel like the man ever left us. Not really. He's played a major part in my life and he passed before I was born.

Such was his talent.

I feel like, though, that the average person has missed it. Say the name Elvis Presley and most people either think of a young punk swiveling his hips or an aging and overweight guy in a jumpsuit. Both miss the mark.

To me, Elvis's true talent lay in the fact that he sang from his gut. You can hear it on later songs like "Hurt" and "You Gave Me A Mountain," in which the ol' boy just "reared back and sang," like we used to say.

He had a range like you wouldn't believe. Later live versions of "How Great Thou Art" can give you chills. And he could rock his butt off. If you don't believe me, track down a copy of either the 1968 "Comeback" Special or the film "That's the Way It Is." Or find a live version of "Suspicious Minds."

And yet I feel sad when I think about him, alone in his Memphis mansion in those final years, a decent guy overcome by fame, taken advantage of by his stooges, laughed at by the nattering nabobs.

But most of us, so-called Middle Americans who maybe saw or wanted to see a bit of ourselves in him, took him for what he was -- a poor Southern boy who made good, who still said, "yes, sir" and "no, ma'am" even though he was the most famous superstar on the planet.

I like to think he's still out there, singing somewhere in the lonely night. He's been gone for almost 33 years, but I don't think the King will never die.

Pardon me while I put on my blue suede shoes and touch down in the land of the Delta Blues.

Happy birthday, Elvis.


Monday, January 04, 2010

Double plays, dancing in my head

Funny I should be thinking of baseball on a cold January afternoon in which the temp is entrenched in the 20s.

It reminds me of a beloved Peanuts cartoon. Charlie Brown is standing on his pitcher's mound, which is covered by a pile of snow. He's ready for opening day. So am I.

Then again maybe it's not so funny. Correspondence with a friend earlier today turned to our national game. So of course my mind flashed forward about three months -- to those azure blue skies and Technicolor greens that mean spring in my world.

Like a Grizzly in the woods, I wish I could hibernate through winter. Much as I've tried, I've never taken to it. I don't like the cold. I don't like the gray. I don't like skies that won't snow.

Sometime in a few weeks, I'll pull out the Ken Burns documentary or maybe "Field of Dreams," just to give me a fix. Sometime around my birthday, I'll be sitting in the Halls High press box with Dustin Mynatt. The first Monday in April will find me sitting in front of my TV set, grilling burgers, watching eight games at once.

(I'm not doing UT baseball this year, at least not as a season ticket holder. Money is tight and I only made it to a handful of games last year. Plus, I can't justify the ticket increase after such a disastrous year, "improvements" to Lindsey Nelson Stadium be damned.)

I can already hear Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy kicking off the Red Sox's season. I have visions of double plays dancing in my head.

Until then, I'm left to face winter and its unsatisfying sports, waiting for the true New Years Day when I spill mustard on my pants, the wind blows gently in from right field and somebody yells those magic words:

"Play ball!"