Pages Menu
TwitterRsslogin
Categories Menu

Posted by on Jul 19, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Music and Concert Reviews, Personal | 0 comments

100 Essential Albums: #100 — Black Moses by Isaac Hayes (1971)

 

 

“Man, what am I going to do to follow up the ‘Shaft’ LP?  I know — let’s try something badass!” 

— Isaac Hayes

 

Nearly a half-century after being released, Black Moses stands the test of time.  It’s a meandering mishmash of disjointed instrumentation and unanticipated musical influences somehow welded together by a singular prophetical artist then at the pinnacle of his power and creativity.

Isaac Hayes’ fifth studio album was so highly anticipated that it was probably doomed from the start upon its original release, given the record company’s lofty expectations combined with insurmountable public demands in the towering shadow of the epic and groundbreaking Shaft movie soundtrack, still climbing the charts, which had been released during the summer five months earlier.  Indeed, Shalf solidified Hayes’ presence as a musical monolith, netting him a well-deserved Oscar for its theme song, becoming the first Black Academy Award winner in history in a non-acting category.  As the seeds of what would become a funk classic were airing on transistor radios and spinning on turntables everywhere, Hayes re-entered Memphis’ Stax studio pressured to rush-record what would be his second double-album released in the late half of 1971.

Think about that for a moment — Isaac Hayes recorded and released two double albums within a five-month stretch.  That’s staggering.

A truly great album becomes transformative, ushering in a new sound reverberating into a vast cultural shockwave.  Black Moses was not that album.  It would be far more accurate to call it the third in Hayes’ soul trilogy, coming on the coattails of Shaft, which had followed up his breakout masterpiece album, Hot Buttered Soul, released in 1969.

Hot Buttered Soul had been that perfect storm of an album at the ideal time in urban contemporary recording history by a supremely self-confident artist fully prepared to swagger into the empty void left when Otis Redding died young.  Hayes grabbed the soul baton and ran into the studio with it determined to create a new sound which became a shared musical holy trinity among his co-contemporaries, Curtis Mayfield and Barry White.  But Hayes went beyond sound, morphing into both sytle and statement.  His sound and appearance were both daring and deeply introspective.  Ultimately, the fruit of Hayes’ three-album musical trifecta would become the soundtrack of the ’70s for millions of listeners, a creative amalgamation which inspired Soul Train (which debuted at precisely the same time of this album), enduring for another decade, and beyond.

Here’s a quick taste.  Listen to Hayes interpretation of “Part-Time Love,” which as was so often the case with Hayes, a marked improvement on the original track (hey, give it a listen with headphones while reading this retrospective):

The songs on Black Moses aren’t original.  Most of the 14 compositions running a total length of 96 minutes (averaging an unheard of 7 minutes per song, which undoubtedly hampered radio airplay and hurt sales on the singles market) were written and previously recorded by other artists.  Nearly a half-century later, what gives this album such an evergreen quality that’s lacking in other collections is the seemingly discordant soundtrack laced so perfectly together with Hayes’ trademark baritone voice and interpretive adventurism, combined with an impeccable sense of musical timing.

By reinterpreting what were once known as songs from the “easy-listening” bin, cut originally by Burt Bachrach (The Carpenters’ #1 hit “Close to You”), Diane Warwick (“I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”), and Kris Kristofferson (“For the Good Times”) — Hayes risked his badass reputation among his most loyal urban base.  By doing his own thing, Hayes demonstrated just how cool risky musical genre crossover could become when performed with genuine affection and authenticity for the music and lyric.  Only Hayes could get away with singing song lyrics made famous by Karen Carpenter and still be looked upon as the hippest guy on the block.

Black Moses was accompanied by considerable behind-the-scenes conflict and public controversy that began even before its release.  The album title — “Black Moses” — was widely considered sacrilegious.  Hayes had been tagged with the religious and racially-tinged nickname in the racy headline of a Jet magazine feature article, and the name stuck.  Hayes, who was deeply religious, initially didn’t like it.  Gradually, Hayes began to embrace the nickname, not so much for his own aggrandizement, but rather for the message of power and pride it conveyed.  Years later, he said:

“Black men could finally stand up and be men because here’s Black Moses; he’s the epitome of black masculinity. Chains that once represented bondage and slavery now can be a sign of power and strength and sexuality and virility.”

If the album title raised eyebrows, then the cover design was downright scandalous.  Many called it outrageous.  Some fans who wore out copies of Hot Buttered Soul and Shaft refused to buy Black Moses.

We now forget that album covers were once bold statements, looked upon and works of art and pinnacles of photography.  Now, “album covers” barely fit into a tiny square the size of a downloadable thumbnail.  Liner notes all but disappeared.  Artistry is gone.  All the accessories that once made LP albums not merely something to be heard, but also to hold in your hands and fully absorb as a total sensory experience have been replaced by mouseclicks on iTunes.  This is what masquerades as progress.

Black Moses took cover art and album design to the very extreme.  On the cover, we see Hayes adorned in his Moses-like robe, his eyes shielded by Ray-Ban sunglasses, gazing up to the heavens.  Those who first unwrapped the album were in for an even bigger surprise.  The cover design opened into a shocking six-square inner fold which, when fully extended to four feet in length, transformed into the shape of a cross.

Not exactly subtle.

Then, there was the music.  The sound has since become fertile fodder for parody, which unfortunately has distorted what was (then and now) unique blend of voice, instrumentation, and rhythm.  Hayes performs all the lead vocals, frequently backed with a trio of female voices, a staple of late ’60’s R&B that came to define the Motown sound.  Hayes also plays all piano and keyboards, including a Hammond organ — which is heard throughout.

It’s as though Hayes never wanted to chase the musical record books.  He intentionally extended the lengths of his songs to unplayable lengths on commercial radio stations, going way beyond the conventional 3-minute hook designed to sell records.  Every selection on Black Moses clocks in at 5 minutes or more, with some tracks approaching 10 minutes in duration.  With Hayes, it was never about the money.  It was about the music, one reason he declared bankruptcy a few years after this album was released to lackluster reviews, despite this third in a stellar trilogy of creativity.

Black Moses was panned when it came out.  Rolling Stone trashed it (since then, they’ve regraded the album far more favorably).  In retrospect, we’ve come to recognize this album’s enduring musical and cultural legacy, with its shattering of conventional expectations during an era of intense change and upheaval.  It’s become a pillar of soul reflective of a coming out party for urban culture and ultimately an expression of self-identity.

Black Moses ranks among my top 100 essential albums of all time, although it’s a flawed masterpiece.  With each new album and interpretive take on a familiar song, we hear and see Hayes struggling to out-do himself from the one before.  Even for Isaac Hayes, in the recording studio or performing live, he was an impossible act to follow.

Here’s Hayes’ recording of The Carpenters’ classic, “Close to You.”

 

Note:  This is the first of a series of reviews and retrospectives of my 100 essential albums, expected to be posted here over the next year or so.  Countdown #100: “Black Moses” by Isaac Hayes

__________

 

Read More

Posted by on Jul 16, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Personal, Rants and Raves, Travel | 0 comments

Strangers in the Night

 

 

The sexes aren’t just different biologically.  The sexes are divided by a chasm — those who live in safety versus those who do not.  Most men can walk the streets at night.  Men answer their doorbells without feeling panic.  Men step onto an elevator and don’t worry about who’s on board.  Men are free to live their lives without fear.  Women don’t have this luxury of being careless.  Women need to be on the lookout at all times.  Women must on the defensive, always, not only wherever they go, but who they talk to and what vibes they give off.  Women must be cautious, even inside their own homes.  Hence, men are free.  And, women are not.

 

One of my senior cats got loose the other day.  He ran outside, jumped over a fence, and disappeared into a neighbor’s yard.  Then, the cat jumped another fence and another.

My cat ended up in the backyard of a house around the block.  So, I went to the front door and rang the bell expecting to be greeted by a neighborly welcome.

There was no answer.  Then, a middle-aged woman looked out the front window and peered through the drapes.  She stared at me.  I looked back at her and saw something strange.  It was a look of fear, laced with confusion.

“What can I do for you,” she hollered through the window pane.

“I lost my cat.  I think he’s in your backyard.”

The woman appeared confused.  It was obvious, she didn’t know what to do.  Frankly, I was a it annoyed by the incident.  “Hey, just go into the backyard, open the door, and give me my cat,” I thought to myself.  Okay, I didn’t say that, but that’s what I was thinking.

The woman on the other side of the door had an entirely different perspective from me.  It’ a perspective I hadn’t ever contemplated before.  It’s probably a perspective oblivious to most men, including some of you who are reading.

After reflecting on the incident, I came to the realization the woman was simply protecting herself.  She was maximizing her very best chance of staying safe.  She was smart.  Opening the front door to a stranger might not seem like it poses much of a danger, but certainly comes with some element of risk.  What’s the risk exactly?   Five percent?  Or, even 1 percent?  Does it matter?  Is it worth it?  The percentages of risk are certainly higher when the potential victim is a woman and the stranger is a man.  Robbery or rape must be a serious concern for nearly every woman at some point, whether it’s in the workplace, walking across a parking lot late at night, and even when driving.  This is true especially when she’s alone.

After some verbal haggling with the lady, I ended up getting my cat.  I also learned a lesson firsthand that made me think more deeply about what I’d experienced and what precisely women have to go through almost daily, well, just because they’re women.

_____

In this country, White men are freer than all other demographic groups.  I don’t mean freer in the political or economic sense since the advantages in career and finance are obvious.  I mean the far more essential aspect of what constitutes a much broader definition of “freedom,” which means going through daily life without worrying about being harmed by someone whom we may or may not know.

Fact is, women have to make judgments about their safety every day.  Most men (including myself) cannot grasp this.  We can pretty much walk down any street day or night and not worry about being robbed or raped.  We can enter a deserted parking lot and not fear what might happen just around the next corner.  We aren’t really much concerned about our personal safety if the car fails to start or it breaks down along the road late in a so-called “bad area.”

One of the casualties of America’s increasing awareness of sexual harassment, physical assault, and abuse of power inside the workplace has been losing our focus on all the seemingly mundane interactions that take place between men and women, usually who don’t know each other, who are forced to interact together in all kinds of social and casual situations.  In virtually all such circumstances, it’s the woman who’s at risk, not the man.  Think about this.

The best example of this is the 30-second elevator ride scenario.  It goes like this:  A woman is working late at night.  She leaves her office and presses the elevator button.  The elevator opens up and a strange man is standing there on board, alone.  Does she enter?

Women must assess situations like this very quickly on an everyday basis.  Should she get on the elevator?  It depends.  Does the man’s appearance matter?  It shouldn’t.  Some rapists can appear very normal.  Ted Bundy wasn’t just normal — he was good-looking.  After killing at least 30 women, Bundy later admitted he used his appearance to gain their trust and prey on victims.  What about his age?  What about his race?  These are indeed tough questions to ponder.  For men, these questions are purely academic, and for myself — what amounts to a writing exercise.  For women, these questions may be a matter of life or death.

Tim Wise, writing in Medium recently, discussed the 30-second elevator ride when just such an incident in a hotel late one night triggered significant anxiety for the solo female passenger [READ THE STORY HERE].  Some men reading this are sure to dismiss women’s fears, either as irrational or an overreaction.  Perhaps some are likely to revert to an even more crude reaction.

Nonetheless, married men, and certainly all men with daughters and sisters, would be the first to say that women closest to them cannot be careful enough in these types of situations.  We don’t want our wives, daughters, or sisters walking down dark streets late at night.  We don’t want them getting on elevators alone when such a thing might be avoided.  So, on one hand, many of us refuse to accept the gender divide that men aren’t burdened with nearly as many precautions and fears in life.  Yet at the same time, we lecture our dearest loved ones and insist they can’t be too careful.

Having two different positions on the 30-second elevator question — one in general and the other for your own loved ones — is duplicitous.

_____

Gina Fiore lives here in Las Vegas.  I don’t know her well, but she’s a Facebook friend.

Yesterday, Gina posted a short story about a knock on her front door.  She peeked out and saw a man she didn’t know:

 

 

Gina’s decision was made much easier by seeing something she perceived to be unusual and dangerous.  The man was holding a brick.  That’s not a normal thing to do when knocking on someone’s door.  In fact, that’s probably a good enough reason to dial 9-1-1.  What man wouldn’t insist that his wife, daughter, or sister call the police in such a scenario?

But returning now to my earlier story about me looking for a cat, how is a woman able to make distinctions between normal everyday activities that we all encounter — versus real danger?  Is it the time of day?  Well, no.  Most robberies happen during the daytime, often in nice neighborhoods when people aren’t at home.  Should decisions be based on the appearance/gender/age/race of the person knocking on the door?  This is certainly a factor for most people.  Most of us would be quick to open our front door to an elderly lady.  Then, there’s the obvious counterexample which many won’t admit:  A young dark-skinned person probably wouldn’t be as trusted, nor extended those same courtesies.

 _____

There’s no easy answer about how to deal with situations at front doors, on elevators, an in parking lots.  One size doesn’t fit all.  Whatever the question, it almost never does.

However, given the very real risks that all men pose to women in their perceptions of situations viewed as potentially dangerous, it’s probably incumbent on us all to do what we can to make women feel more at ease.

I’d like to hear from women as to how we can do this.  I think it’s important, and so should you.

Please join the discussion either here in the comments section and/or on Facebook — CLICK HERE.

I look forward to reading and learning more.

__________

 

Read More

Posted by on Jun 25, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Personal | 0 comments

Cremation Service Sends Me a Hot Check

 

On my long list of the last people I want to talk to over the telephone, receiving an unsolicited call from a telemarketer trying to pimp me “advance cremation arrangements” has to rank somewhere between the fake IRS agent with the indecipherable Nigerian accent threatening to imprison me, and a robocall from Republican Danny Tarkanian, who has lost eight straight political races in this state and runs for office every time there’s a full moon.

I don’t bother with answering the phone anymore.  It’s always either an annoying salesman, a bill collector, or someone wanting something from me that I don’t have — like money.  I don’t work a full-time job, so why bother reaching when the phone rings?  Hell, even when I was working two jobs, I never answered the fucking phone.  Hmm, maybe that’s why I don’t have a job anymore.

So last week, I opened up an envelope and there was a surprise inside.  It was a check for $129.85.  The check was made out to me, as in….

“Pay to:  NOLAN DALLA….The sum of:  ONE-HUNDRED TWENTY-NINE DOLLARS AND EIGHTY-FIVE CENTS.”  Gee, I’m sure glad I didn’t toss that envelope without opening it.  Usually, when mail comes and I don’t know where it’s from, I trash it — which may explain why the bill collectors phone so often.

The surprise check was a mystery.  I didn’t understand why I was getting a payment for $129.85 from a company I’ve never heard of.  Sometimes when you cash those things that come in the mail and don’t read the fine print, you later find out that you’ve just bought a timeshare.  I did some deep investigating, which basically involved reading a letter tucked inside the envelope.  The letter informed me this was a settlement from a class-action lawsuit.  I guess my side won the legal case.  Shit, I didn’t even get to testify.  Please, put me on the witness stand.  Surely, I can tearjerk them for at least another fifty.

Come to find out, some company that does cremations did something really, really bad, which is kinda’ twisted since their entire business model basically consists of baking dead people in a brick oven until they turn into jar of ashes.  Apparently, some overly aggressive cremation telemarketers for a private entity called the Neptune Society [READ MORE HERE] violated the federal “Do Not Call” consumer protection act and agreed to pay out a $15 million settlement.  My cut amounted to $129.85.  Hell, I didn’t even know I was on the “Do Not Call” list.  I don’t remember getting the phone call or filling out any paperwork.

No worries.  I ran to the bank and cashed it immediately.  The check cleared, which now means I get to keep my cable television package with HBO for at least another month.

Winning my class-action lawsuit got me to do some serious thinking.  I even came up with an idea.  Hopefully, some other cremators pitching their cremation stuff will give me a call at home.  Hey, call me as often and as many times as possible.  I’ll even pick up the phone.  Football season’s right around the corner and I could sure use the money.

___________

 

Read More

Posted by on Apr 1, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Personal | 1 comment

Like Minded People

 

 

What does it mean on social media to click the “like” button?  Liking something may not always mean what you think.

 

Everyone wants to be liked.

On social media, likes are the metric used to measure popularity.  Likes are an affirmation of mass approval.  Admit it — we’ve all checked to see if someone liked our posts.  When you see a dozen likes, it feels pretty good.  When you see zero likes, it kinda’ hurts.  Social media has become a coterie of high school cheerleaders.

So what exactly does it mean when we like a tweet on Twitter or like a post on Facebook?  Are we agreeing with the content?  Are we praising the person who tweeted or posted?  Or, are we simply saying — I find this post pleasing, amusing, interesting, or comforting?

This isn’t rocket science.  I think most can agree on a common definition;  To like something means “thumbs up” to the poster and the content.

The last few days, I’ve engaged in a few private conversations through Facebook chat about my liking of various posts.  I’ll keep the names and specifics out of this discussion because they’re irrelevant.  Let’s just say I liked one post which contained a strong religious narrative.  I liked another post which contained a political statement that I believe is wrong, but which nonetheless I found to be both crafty and provocative.  One person messaged me alarmed that my Facebook account had been hacked.

Since my Atheism and Leftism are pretty much a matter of public record, why would I ever like a post by a Christian proselytizing biblical scripture, or like a statement by a Trump supporter?  Such actions do seem odd for someone so passionate and seemingly set in his ways.  Isn’t liking the post an “affirmation of approval,” as I suggested earlier?

Not necessarily.  I like just about any post — indeed, anything I read — which is thoughtful.  I especially like posts where a friend, an associate, or even someone unknown to me appears have taken considerable time to prepare and then share an opinion.  I like people who think and are willing to pressure test their ideas within our town square known as social media.  Contrast this with re-posting memes, which are typically antithetical to honest discussion and debate.  Re-posting memes are for lazy people who are unwilling to do their own thinking.  I wish there was a DON’T LIKE button for memes.  I’d pound the hell out of it.

So, why would I ever like a pro-Christian or pro-Trump post?  The reason is simple.  If someone takes the time to post a comment about a topic I introduced, particularly if that comment is original and thought-provoking, I say that post deserves my respect.  Hence, that’s what the like button is for.

Unfortunately, I think way too many of us now use likes as stripes on a sergeant’s sleeve.  We divide ourselves into camps which have become more like bunkers.  Likes are weapons to be used sparingly.   We reserve our ration of likes for what our allies post.  Given the lack of a scoreboard, most arguments come down to — the post with the most likes wins.

In these often combative times on social media, one way to encourage more civility is to break away from our comfort zones and echo chambers.  Sure, it’s not easy.  We feel safer among our tribe.  Still, I increasingly try to search for common ground with adversaries whom I disagree with on issues (admittedly, some instances are futile).  Finding common ground can be a mutual beachhead where everyone wins.  Perhaps the other person will increasingly come to see things my way.  There’s also the very real possibility that I might change my mind about an issue if provided with enough evidence.

The bottom line is — it’s okay to like someone with an opposite persuasion.  It’s also okay to like their counterargument even if we disagree.  We need to start liking far more people who are smart, engaging, and open-minded — and start ignoring people who are dumb, divisive, and close-minded.

Now, can I please get a few likes?  Otherwise, I’m going to be devastated.

_____

Read More

Posted by on Mar 22, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Personal, Politics | 4 comments

Another Brick in the Wall

 

 

The terrible costs of war are almost impossible to calculate.  However, let me try to give just a little perspective.

 

At first glance, this may appear to be a humorous column.  It’s not.

I’m building a cement wall in my backyard.  Yesterday, I unloaded 120 cinder blocks off a rental truck weighing 28 pounds each, plus ten bags of mortar.  Then, I carried everything into the back, two bricks at a time, which took me almost three hours.  In a few days, I’ll mix the cement, lift each block into place, make a huge mess, and slowly begin building my wall.

Total Cost:  $220.

Time:  16 hours (estimated)

Labor:  Backbreaking

Construction is hard work.  It’s brutal on the 56-year-old body, especially if you’re doing things manually (without machines and tools).  The weather is cool now here in Las Vegas, but it must be excruciating to do construction work full-time in the summer when temperatures soar to 116 degrees and everything gets so hot to the touch, your hand can get scorched.

I don’t like construction work.  I’d much rather be drinking wine and wasting time arguing politics on Facebook.

Construction work sucks.

_____

 

You’re looking at a photograph of someplace in Syria.

I don’t know the name of the city.  It doesn’t matter.

Take a closer look at all those buildings, all the walls, all the cement dust, all the destruction.  Then, multiply what you see in this photograph by 100,000 or 1,000,000 or 10,000,000.  I have no idea how massive the destruction is in that country.  It’s probably incalculable.

Think of how many walls in Syria and other parts of the world plagued by war need to be torn down.  Then, removed.  Then, new bricks and cement need to be trucked in.  Finally, each brick must be set into place.

Think of the cost.  Think of the time needed.  Think of the labor.

It’s almost unfathomable to contemplate.

But the work must be done.  One brick at a time.

_____

 

I’m building a wall which takes me two full days.  In some ways, I have it easy.  There’s nothing to tear down or remove.  No bombs are falling on me from the sky while I work.  No walls will collapse and kill me.  It’s a simple job.

I have the luxury of taking breaks.  I can grab a drink anytime.  I have my music playing in the background.  There’s a toilet just a few steps away.  I will enjoy a nice lunch and an even better dinner.  I will sleep in a comfortable bed at night.

Sure, it’s a tough job.  I will have body aches afterward.  But it’s a hell of a lot easier than what some people are faced with in another part of the world.

I’m not going to complain that my back aches.  Some people have it a lot tougher.

_____

 

As I was carrying all those bricks yesterday I thought of the people in Syria and other places in the world suffering the cruel fate of war — people I do not now and likely will never meet.  It’s always the innocent who suffer most, often women and children.

Most of those people who will end up doing all the heavy lifting and trying to rebuild their walls and lives did no wrong.  They committed no crimes.  They had nothing to do with the brutal hostilities which led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands and the current refugee crisis resulting from millions fleeing the terror.  Yet those still in Syria and other places are the ones who will be forced to lift the bricks, mix the mortar, and construct a new society hopefully with a better future than the past.

My aches and pains will be multiplied a hundred-million times over by people who likely are not as healthy or well fed or safe.

Worst of all for those willing to work and build new walls is not knowing what will happen ahead.  I’m confident that my wall will stand.  Nothing poses any threat to its construction.  But what about those new walls built in that devastated faraway place?  Will they last?  If so, for how long?  Will another bomb fall?  Will there be a new war?

Building my wall gives me some perspective about the horrific costs of war.  Those who pay the highest cost of the destruction are often those who least deserve to bear the burdens, but always end up paying for the sins of the wicked.

_____

 

Read More
Page 1 of 561234...102030...Last »
css.php