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August 17, 2019

Song of the Day #1666

Song of the Day: Green River, words and music by John Fogerty, was the title track to the third studio album of Creedence Clearwater Revival. The song was a Certified Gold Single that peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Check out the single version [YouTube link] and the live version [YouTube link] of the song, which the group performed on this very day fifty years ago at Woodstock (it was the second song in their set, which lasted from 12:30 a.m. to 1:20 a.m.). The song has been heard in several films through the years, including "The Post" (2017), in which it is used anachronistically---since it plays over a scene in 1966 Vietnam, three years before this single was released! One film that it was not heard in was "Easy Rider," which debuted on 14 July 1969 (during the same month that our song of the day was also released). This is therefore the Golden Anniversary Summer of a landmark "counterculture" film, which starred Peter Fonda, who, died at the age of 79 yesterday (16 August 2019). Fonda considered himself a part of the counterculture of the 1960s and was "Born to Be Wild" [YouTube link], indeed. It was all the more ironic then that, in 1999, he would receive a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor for a Miniseries (for the Showtime movie version of Barbara Branden's book, "The Passion of Ayn Rand"), playing Frank O'Connor, opposite Helen Mirren, who assumed the role of his wife, Ayn Rand, and who would go on to win a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Television Movie.

August 16, 2019

Song of the Day #1665

Song of the Day: Lady Madonna, credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, was a Top Five hit in 1968. The Beatles may have been going through some troubles, which led to their inevitable breakup in 1970, but their music lived on in the voices of several Woodstock performers. Richie Havens, who opened up the Woodstock festival on 15 August 1969, performed a few Beatles covers in his marathon set, such as "With a Little Help from My Friends" (and he needed a little help with the lyrics!) and a medley of "Strawberry Fields Forever and Hey Jude" [YouTube links]. This Beatles song was also a part of his repertoire, but not performed live at Woodstock. I feature it today nonetheless because it gives us a chance to say Happy Birthday to a different Lady Madonna, who, was born on this date 61 years ago---a full eleven years before the festival took place. Madonna would go on to rock the charts of the 1980s and beyond, along with such artists as Prince, George Michael, Michael Jackson, and Whitney Houston, all of whom are now gone. But Madonna is still kickin' in 2019, scoring her ninth #1 album on the Billboard Hot 200, "Madame X," which debuted at #1 in 58 countries on iTunes in the last week of June. But getting back to this year's Summer Music theme, check out a rendition of our song of the day by the guy who kicked off the Woodstock festival, Richie Havens [YouTube link] (though the highlight of his set was, undoubtedly, the improvised "Freedom" [YouTube link], based on the Negro spiritual, "Motherless Child"). The Brooklyn-born Havens died in April 2013, and his ashes were later scattered on August 18th of that year, across the Woodstock site, that 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York, to coincide with the festival's anniversary. Finally, let's not forget the original rendition of this classic song by the Beatles [YouTube link].

August 15, 2019

Song of the Day #1664

Song of the Day: Pinball Wizard, words and music by Pete Townshend, was featured on "Tommy," the rock opera recorded by The Who in 1969. Check out the original album version [YouTube link]. Today marks the first of four days coinciding with the Golden Anniversary of the Woodstock Festival. I will be focusing primarily on some of the songs and artists who appeared at that festival (with one quasi-exception tomorrow). But our Woodstock tribute will continue until the end of the Summer (in September). Since I will be posting entries over these next four days, which coincide with the dates of the original festival, I think we should note a few things about Woodstock itself---given the bad press it received with its legendary rampant drug use and "free love" in the mud on open display.

This festival took place on Max Yasgur's 600-acre farm in Bethel, New York. Having received $75,000 for the use of his private land for the very public festival, Yasgur, who was a pro-Vietnam War conservative, was also deeply committed to the American principle of free expression. He addressed the crowd that had come to his property and openly celebrated the "kids" in attendance at the event [YouTube link]. He observed correctly that this was one of the largest gatherings of youth "ever assembled in one place"---one marked by no violence, despite some very real "inconveniences" (like severe rainstorms and shortages of both food and toilets). Even the local community rose to the occasion; the largely conservative, rural town residents, who would not have ordinarily sat down with anyone from the "hippie" generation, gladly donated food, water, and other resources to aid the young people who were overwhelmed by the sheer size and unpredictable scope of the event and its hardships. Even the Medical Corps of the armed forces flew in supplies---to monumental applause from the hundreds of thousands of people who were there.

The Summer of '69---which we have been commemorating in this year's installment of our Summer Music Festival---is a study in contrasts (Ayn Rand herself saw it as a battle between "Apollo" and "Dionysus"). But it is also a study in convergence. In July 1969, two human beings walked on the surface of the moon for the first time, while in August 1969, nearly half-a-million human beings embraced the music and message of a festival, featuring more than 30 artists and/or bands, embracing 'cosmic' peace (I'm sure some of the participants thought they were walking on the moon themselves, at various times over that four-day period!). Whatever one's attitudes toward the views of that era, of its culture or its "counterculture", this remarkable convergence of events demonstrated what was possible when people reached across a "generation gap." At Woodstock, the "counterculture" [pdf to one of my encyclopedia entries]---many of them left-wingers who were not particularly enamored by the institution of private property---nevertheless assembled on private land to very publicly voice not just their disenchantment with the Vietnam War and the draft, but to nonviolently celebrate "peace" and "love" through the music of their day, at the end of one of the most turbulent, violent decades in American history. In the summer of 1969 alone, there were thousands of military and civilian casualties in Southeast Asia, not to mention ongoing unrest and violence at home, including a sensational murder spree in early August committed by the Manson cult that led to the horrific deaths of five people in Los Angeles (including actress Sharon Tate, who was eight-and-a-half months pregnant). And yet, for all its "countercultural" hoopla, only two people died at Woodstock (one from a drug overdose; another from a tractor accident). It's as if a Wizard had simply waved a wand to show, in a single unforgettable summer, what was possible---in the stars and on earth---when people of different ages, backgrounds, views, and perspectives could claim to have "come in peace for all mankind."

And so we kick off the height of our Woodstock Summer with a song of Wizardry. It was featured about half-way through The Who's set at the festival [YouTube link], in the wee hours of 17 August 1969, followed by what has become known as the "Abbie Hoffman incident" [YouTube link] (one of the few disruptions during any musical set, not counting delays due to pouring rain!). Of course, for those of us who saw the 1975 film version of "Tommy," it's not possible to forget Elton John's performance of this song [YouTube link] or its re-imagining in this year's Elton biopic "Rocketman" [YouTube link]. But wizards work magic, and in that summer, fifty years ago, there was pure magic on display in so many significant ways.

August 10, 2019

Song of the Day #1663

Song of the Day: I'm Going Home features the words and music of the late rock guitarist Alvin Lee of Ten Years After. Lee had always marvelled at the fast fret work of the jazz guitarists he emulated, including Django Reinhardt, Barney Kessel, John McLaughlin, and Joe Pass. At Woodstock, he provides us with a truly adrenaline-fueled guitar solo, incorporating snippets of "Blue Suede Shoes," "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," and John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom." Check out the version from their album "Undead" and the rockin' live performance at Woodstock [YouTube links].

August 09, 2019

Song of the Day #1662

Song of the Day: Higher Love features the words and music of Will Jennings and Steve Winwood, who took this song from his album "Back in the High Life" to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in August of 1986. The female vocals on the single were provided by Chaka Khan, who also appeared in the music video [YouTube link]. Tomorrow, we get back to our Woodstock Edition of the Summer Music Festival, but today, we mark the date, 56 years ago, when Whitney Houston was born. It turns out that despite having left a remarkable discography to posterity, Whitney actually recorded this song in 1990 (produced by Narada Michael Walden) for her third studio album, "I'm Your Baby Tonight" (and what a great song that was [YouTube link]!), but it appeared only on the album's Japanese release. So her current single is the first posthumously released recording to hit the Hot 100 since her untimely death in 2012. Check out Whitney's live performance of the song and the Kygo-produced remix released last month as well as the slammin' Stormby Club Mix [YouTube links]. The song is already a Top 5 Dance Club Track, peaking at #2 as well on the Hot Dance / Electronic Songs Chart.

August 08, 2019

Song of the Day #1661

Song of the Day: If I Can't Have You features the words and music of Teddy Geiger, Scott Harris, Nate Mercereau, and Shawn Mendes, who turns 21 today! Check out the video single and several remixes by Galoski, MT SOUL, and the Bass Brothers. And Happy Birthday, young man!

August 04, 2019

Happy Birthday, Jones Beach!

On August 4, 1929, Jones Beach State Park was officially opened, in a ceremony held by then-New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Today, Jones Beach marks the 90th anniversary of its opening by lowering its parking fee from $10.00 to 50 cents, a price reflective of yesteryear! Which means if you want to get on the beach, you better leave from now: Make your way down the Wantagh State Parkway in Nassau County, and get on line!

I used to go there as a kid with my sister and my cousins Sandy and Michael, anytime I visited my Aunt Joan and Uncle Al, who lived in Bellmore, Long Island. Memories... of hot sand, huge waves, and family fun in the sun!

August 03, 2019

Song of the Day #1660

Song of the Day: The Oscar ("Maybe September"), music by Percy Faith, lyrics by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, was featured in the 1966 movie, with an all-star cast, including Tony Bennett, who made his film debut and sang its theme song. The song appears on two of Tony's albums: "The Movie Song Album" and the second of two albums he did with the jazz piano legend Bill Evans, "Together Again". Check out the original version and the Evans collaboration [YouTube links]. And Happy 93rd Birthday to Tony!

August 02, 2019

Song of the Day #1659

Song of the Day: Going Up the Country, words and music by Canned Heat, was a remake of sorts of the 1928 "Bull Doze Blues" [YouTube link] by blues musician Henry Thomas. Their version of this song was recorded for their third album, "Living the Blues" and became an international hit. Check out the single version and the Woodstock festival version of this rollicking blues-rock romp [YouTube links].

August 01, 2019

Erika Holzer, RIP

I have learned that author Erika Holzer has passed away. She was a dear friend for many years, from whom I learned much.

Erika and I developed a warm, personable relationship back in 2004, as she worked on a wonderful essay, "Passing the Torch," which was published in the first of two Journal of Ayn Rand Studies symposia marking the Rand Centenary. That particular issue was devoted to Rand's literary and cultural impact---and Erika's essay served as a springboard to her 2005 book that traced her "mentor-protege relationship with the author of Atlas Shrugged": Ayn Rand: My Fiction-Writing Teacher (the book was reviewed by Kirsti Minsaas in the Fall 2006 JARS).

Erika's literary contributions were discussed at length in the pages of JARS by writers such as Jeff Riggenbach, whose essay, "Ayn Rand's Influence on American Popular Fiction" appeared in the same issue as Erika's "Passing the Torch" and Robert Powell, whose essay, "Taking Pieces of Rand with Them: Ayn Rand's Literary Influence," appeared in the December 2012 issue of JARS.

Erika's body of work included some very fine thrillers, Freedom Bridge: A Cold War Thriller (which is actually a revised version of Double Crossing) and Eye for an Eye, which was made into a suspenseful 1996 film, directed by John Schlesinger, starring Sally Field, Kiefer Sutherland and Ed Harris. She also co-wrote two nonfiction books with her husband Henry (Hank) Mark Holzer.

Significantly, in the late 1960s, Erika and Hank had tracked down the original negative of the 1942 Italian film adaptation of Rand's first novel, We the Living, starring Alida Valli and Rossano Brazzi. Under Rand's initial guidance, Erika was immensely helpful to director Duncan Scott, in the re-editing and restoration of the film, which was released in 1986, with English subtitles.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Erika Holzer was among the most empathetic of human beings I've ever known, greatly supportive of me through some of my most difficult periods grappling with a life-long illness. I loved her and I will miss her very much.

My deepest condolences to her husband Hank, her family, and friends. Her literary work and her pro bono work as a lawyer on behalf of human rights cases stand as her ultimate legacy.