R.I.P.: U. Srinivas

This is terrible news (he was only 45!) and the loss of a musical innovator of the first rank. Excellent, well-rounded obit from the NY Times. I was mildly horrified to realize I hadn’t picked up a new recording by him in more than 10 years, and will get to work on that right away. As an introduction, I would recommend Magic Mandolin (Chhanda Dhara, 1989) and Modern Mandolin Maestro (GlobeStyle, 1991) for the more tradition-rooted modes and his collaboration with Michael Brook Dream (Real World, 1995) for the fusion-minded styles.

(I may be amiss to not plug his work with John McLaughlin, but almost everything after the guitarist’s early fusion days, most especially Shakti, sounded chops-mad and shallow in the soul department to me. YMMV)


The King’s Crowning Legal Victory

Jack Kirby finally gets his due. The ugliness of the working conditions at Marvel when it was turning out the most dazzling mainstream comics in the world was so depressing to me I stopped reading a history of the company. This was the most glaring injustice in graphic arts. Kudos to Brent Staples for following the story over the many years.

The Air Is Still and the Light Is Cool #7

This will be ultra-brief because otherwise I’ll keep putting it off like I have for a week or more now.

Crescent City Soul: the Sound of New Orleans 1947-1974

Crescent City Soul

is a four-CD set that, glanced at, might not seem like such a big deal. “The Official CD Collection of the 1996 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.” Okay — next.

But it’s the finest one-package selection of classic NOLA pop ever assembled. Average of 30 tracks per disc. Makes an irrefutable case for the city’s* vital contribution to rock, soul and funk. The first disc is a marvel of programming masterpieces that never gets tired no matter how much it’s played. But all the sides hold up and introduce immortal obscurities like Diamond Joe’s “Help Yourself” by the dozen.

Yes, there’s a few bizarre omissions — I agree with Richie Unterberger that two of the most frustrating left-outs are “Sea Cruise” and “Rockin’ Pneumonia” — but no other package comes close to the depth and range.

The one-disc distillation is all right, of course, but not worth a shout from the hilltops. Too bad the full set is now a pricey rarity. But if you can land one without going into hock, don’t even take a deep breath.

*And acts associated with the city.

It Will Always Be the State To Me

Since the office computer is finally up and operational, thought I might celebrate with this big, clear picture of the surviving theater in Livingston that Dan Miles used to own (opened 1935):


Only thing that grits me is the inserted “Empire” sign (its current name). For me it will always be the Sate and the Strand. Sadly, the Strand, which had by far the more glorious art-deco interior, was torn down after a next-door fire and became a parking lot. The Strand hosted first-run features while the State was for second runs and lower-class items like all the monster/horror/sci-fi classics of the ’50s and ’60s.

R.I.P.: Milton Cardona


With Jose Menguel, Hector Lavoe and Wille Colon

Keeper of the salsa beat, and more.

I am anything but a fan of pure percussion-and-voice recordings (they work live, not at home), but I treasure the 1986 recording Bembe, which I would put on to explain Santeria to anyone or for joyous amazement. The spirits approve and inhabit the grooves. Seek out his innovative work with Colon (particularly Lo Mato) and I am also very fond of his ’90s work with trombonist Steve Turre (Sanctified Shells).

Smokey Wimps Out (Rightly)

My Dad was born in 1890 and his outlook toward nature and natural resources was typical of his generation. Although he was an outdoorsman and a rancher, college graduate and a reader who spent his whole life in rural Montana, his concept of ecology was a fantasy. Nature was infinite, inexhaustible, renewing faster than humans could ever use up. It was like suggesting there was another Western United States off the coast of California. Well, if you grew up before the age of automobiles, I’m sure it seemed obvious. I think even the residual romance of this vision of infinite nature died in me the moment I saw the sluggish gray sludge that was the Charles River running through Cambridge in the 1970s. (Classic nyuk-nyuk of the time: “The Charles doesn’t have a bottom, it just gets thicker as it goes down.”)

And in 1988, Smokey the Bear was incinerated in Yellowstone Park. Well, the Smokey I grew up with, who had his most low-key anniversary ever, his 70th, last August 4th. He remains, however, an eternal triumph of marketing. Wish Woodsy Owl had done a tenth as well.

If Davey Crockett killed him a bear [or was that killed in a bar?] when he was only three, Smokey was Davey incarnated as a bruin. His appearance was a blast of lucky genius. Adult male bear in loose jeans and ranger cap — macho. Add shirt and shoes — turns creepy.

And speaking of nature fantasies, the primordial target — bigger than earthquakes, even outflanking floods — is fire. Myth after myth confirm that controlling flames is humanity’s original step up outta da mud. And because uncontrolled fire seems to destroy everything it touches and can kill you, it must be a key enemy. And the best kind — a conquered enemy. Except when it ain’t.

Tamping down runaway fires in cities was such a thumping success that taking it beyond the streets must have seemed a no-brainer. Then and now, the message should have been: “Don’t be an idiot with your cigarette butts and campfires. Douse the hell out of them every time.” But Smokey had to have the most hairy-chested message ever — prevent forest fires. (The “9 out of 10″ thing, though saner, was an obvious misfire.)

The so-called conquest of the wilderness had more hold on my imagination as a youngster. Though I was a skeptic, or at least a dissident. Nature was everywhere around, while I was an introvert, a houseplant, a certified perv who didn’t even enjoy camping. Nonetheless, indoorsman me knew that legend and anecdote (what we now call “truthiness”) had far too much to do with the average person’s understanding of the nature of nature. Hell, wolves and wild fires had a role, goddammit. But I never have been able to tolerate Hill ‘n’ Forest Romantics, either.

The enormous Yellowstone fires of ’88 were a turning point. Trust me, kids, sad but true, the place looked more perfect — an idealized portrait of itself — before those blazes wiped out forests all over. And Smokey looked like a fire-stompin’ nutjob.Quashing every wildfire you could was unnatural and dangerous.

So I don’t miss the old Smokey and his outdated message. Not a landscape to strive for. Besides, there are other vistas we should be seeking.Beyond depressing that research and publicized study have failed to convince people about the urgency of climate change corrections.

Maybe most discouraging of all is that the messages might fail because they don’t suggest defeating some sort of enemy.

Hey, Smokey, doff that ranger hat, put on a green stocking cap and get crackin’ with your repositioned world-famous mug:

“Only You Can Prevent Climate Catastrophe”

Vocal Dissent

Odd little spate of albums where the singing blocks me out. Just as voices can beat down rational resistance, other ones can throw up insurmountable subjective barriers.

Kat Edmonson, The Big Picture

Aby Ngana Diop, Lital

Dave Ray, Legacy

Billy Sedlmayr, Charmed Life

The two women belong to traditions I can’t deal with (Blossom Dearie chirp and trad-griot shout, respectively); the two men have the more common problem with pitch and intonation usually lumped under the term “tuneless.” Too bad that Ray is often a charming,even dazzling, guitarist but I’m sticking with those vintage Koerner, Ray & Glover albums (why isn’t there a nice box set of those?).