Yes, this is a commercial but I’m writing the post and this is my story. I feel the need to share because good deeds deserve our praise.
A few years ago, we got a coupon for Chewy.com. It gave us a discount on cat food and pet supplies. Normally, we buy at PetSmart or off the sale rack, but this was too good an offer to pass up. Long story short — we ended up with a monthly delivery from Chewy for about $50 per month (two cats).
In May, our beloved “Alex” died. He was 18. Ginger cat. I loved him so much.
We still had “Faro,” our grey cat (both were adopted from shelters as strays). Faro was 15. However, when Alex died, Faro stopped eating. We tried everything. Six weeks later, Faro was dead. We couldn’t diagnose what went wrong, but we think Faro died of a broken heart. He missed Alex.
I can’t tell you how painful this is to remember, even now, 6-7 months later. This also reminds me to write about taking Faro into the vet one last time, which is a painful memory for me, but one I think could help others who lose their pets. Let me file that away for now. Tearing up, here.
So, we lost Alex and Faro barely two months apart. We went from two cats to none. The house seemed so empty. Those of you who have lost pets will understand “the silence.” It’s deafening.
Distracted by death, Marieta and I forgot about our monthly Chewy delivery. Then, another shipment came. We were billed for $50 for dozens of cans of cat food. It was a delivery we didn’t need.
I didn’t know what to do, so I contacted Chewy’s online support. I asked for a refund and told them the circumstances. Then, I totally lost it after what they did next.
The Chewy rep told me they would refund the $50. She also said not to return the unused cat food. I was advised to take the large box and make a donation to the local animal shelter. All from Chewy.
I was blown away by this act of kindness and a genuine display of compassion. The company wasn’t seeking publicity. They had no idea I am a writer. They didn’t know I would write this, which is entirely deserved.
So, I took the box and later ended up doing some work for a local shelter. It’s so gratifying that all the cats enjoyed what amounted to a full day’s supply of food, made possible by Chewy.com.
We have a new cat now. Another stray. “Cosmo” is nearly 10 months old. We expect him to have a healthy and happy life. He will be a loyal Chewy customer forever.
The kicker to the story is my aunt, Deborah Massoletti posted something similar recently about Chewy.com, which leads me to believe this is their company policy. No one would have take offense if they had a no-return policy. Given the low-profit margins and weight of the shipment, I really didn’t expect them to even respond to the inquiry.
This is how a good company does business. I want to publically thank and endorse Chewy.com as a great supplier of pet products and a group of people filled with love in their hearts.
I dropped this envelope in today’s mail. Yeah, Trump — I got your “contribution” right here.
Whatever flunky Trump toad opens the envelope is in for one helluva’ surprise.
Here’s the Backstory: I presume it’s social media pranksters who sign me up for pro-Trump fundraising and other Republican schemes. I get this kinda’ shit all the time. Usually, this junk mail goes straight to the trash can. But since I was personally invited to become a member of the “President’s Advisory Board” — for a FINANCIAL CONTRIBUTION, of course — well, I had to read the offer.
The RNC sent me a survey, with laughably loaded questions. Survey questions like “Do you believe the Democrats’ impeachment proceedings against President Trump, who was duly elected by the people and has made America great again, is a politically-driven witch hunt?” You get the idea.
I had the option of joining the “President’s Advisory Board” at various levels of commitment. $25 makes me an “Associate Member.” $50 makes me something higher. $75 is the next step. $100 gets me “Inner Circle” status. For $500 or more, my name gets personally seen by the president who will write me a personal “thank you” (done with autopen, no doubt). It all sounds like a giant casino rewards program. All that’s missing is $15 in free slot play and the 2 for 1 buffet coupon.
Well, I had my own idea of a contribution. I’ll just leave it at that. Nothing dangerous or illegal, mind you. But, I want to make sure the Trump Republican fundraisers know that I took their solicitation very seriously. The “$100” handwritten on the outside of the envelope should ensure it’s opened and read by an actual Trumpster.
Please, RNC — send me more surveys and offers. I’ve got plenty more “contributions” to make.
“I write songs. Then, I record them. And, later, maybe I perform them on stage. That’s what I do. That’s my job. Simple.”
THE VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: WEEK 7
DAY 43 — “Beside You” (1967-68)
You are about to hear two astonishing pieces of music. They are both identical songs, with two completely different arrangments.
The first track is taken from the 1967 Bang Records recording outtakes in New York City in 1967. Later dubbed The Bang Masters, about 40 songs flooded the underground bootleg market and still remain popular with Van Morrison aficionados.
The second recording is the far more polished version — but still only the first take of the revised song that appeared on Van’s much-celebrated mystical musical masterpiece, Astral Weeks. The words and melody are the same, but everything else about the track is very different from Van’s earlier raw demo. What makes this track fascinating is listening to the studio engineers talking and giving instruction at the start of the first take. Then, wham — out of nowhere Van comes in with a gorgeous guitar melody.
Van was very new to New York at the time. He’d barely been in America for a week before it was time for his studio sessions for the new record label created by Bert Burns, who died less than a year later. Also, along with Berns, Bang Records was co-founded by the legendary Ahmet Ertegun, who would sign and record many of the most popular acts in the history of rock music.
The pulsating guitar accompanying Van’s shrilling vocals is masterful. But the track is totally transformed into something far more cerebral on the finished album recording.
This is a really fun comparison to enjoy. Each arrangement in its own way is a standout. In particular, pay close attention to the organ on the unreleased Bang Records bootleg. My only complaint is, I wish they’d crank it up! Yes, this does sound like Dylan.
Revised version, more polished, with studio instructions (First Take):
DAY 44 — “Little Village” (2003)
Here’s another mostly undiscovered masterpiece. What a gorgeous song.
“Little Village” begins with Van Morrison strumming his acoustic guitar. The melody is gradually engulfed by a saxophone. Then finally, we’re uplifted by the strings and flutes of an orchestra. It’s one of Van’s best original songs of the last 20 years.
The track appeared towards the end of the 2003 album release, What’s Wrong With This Picture? That album was nominated for a Grammy. However, none of the 13 original recordings became hits. Most music fans, even the most loyal “Vanatics” would be hard-pressed to name the most popular song from the album.
What’s Wrong With This Picture? was intended to reflect the jazz vibe of New Orleans. However, Westland Studios in Dublin was selected for the recording sessions. Van hired a backup band made entirely of Irish and English musicians.
The accompaniment of rollicking pianos, racy horns, lush strings, woodwinds, and the effervescent heartbeat of the Hammon organ are consistent throughout the collection. What stands out on “Little Village” is the plucking of strings later in the track mixed with flutes which amplifies a staccato-like melody carried by Van’s soulful vocals and lyrics.
The original studio recording is a pristine arrangement. Van obviously likes the song because he’s performed it dozens of times since in live performances, even to the present day. One reason perhaps Van favors the arrangement is that he finds the basic structure liberating.
If you wither around YouTube and listen to various live recordings of “Little Village,” no two sound the same. This is the source of both praise and criticism. For example, listen to a live recording made in Barcelona in 2005. Van changes up the tempo and brings in a clarinet. Some Van fans might also recognize the very strong musical resemblance of certain parts of this live recording with the so-called “Caledonia Soul Music” sessions recorded circa 1970. The mandoline riffs undoubtedly played here by Van, sound identical to the outtakes of that very obscure unreleased bootleg. I find it astonishing that Van recreates the precise guitar riffs from 35 years earlier onstage in this song. The section I’m writing about occurs about 2:45 into the (unauthorized) Barcelona recording. This entire 7 minute-arrangement is well worth a listen, including some brassy sax work towards the end (the live recording is posted second, after the studio track).
While the original track remains a standout, the alternative versions can be equally as fun to explore and discuss, as these two examples will demonstrate.
See if you agree with the beauty and power of “Little Village.”
Live (unauthorized) recording — Barcelona, 2005:
DAY 45 — “Never Get Out of These Blues Alive” (1972) — with John Lee Hooker
Van Morrison collaborated with legendary bluesman John Lee Hooker on countless recordings over three decades. Most of these blues standards, mixed in with some original compositions, went unreleased. Many are only available on bootlegs. However, some sessions are available on YouTube.
Their long friendship began when Van launched his solo career and recorded one of Hooker’s classics. They played on each other’s records many times. Virtually all the recordings were performed spontaneously. Two masters at their craft meeting in the studio and creating magic. It’s difficult to say how much influence Hooker had on Van and his recording style. Hooker, a genius at improvisation, always recorded and performed *in the moment.* Van quickly came to adopt this freewheeling philosophy, that if the session didn’t get the song down in the first take or two, then it “wasn’t working.” The vaults of Van’s rejects overflow with raw, half-written, would-be gold. All the tunes that “didn’t work” could fill several albums. (*see footnote)
Hooker recorded a new album in late 1971 that didn’t chart at the time but has since become regarded as a classic. Van joined Hooker at Wally Heider Studios in San Francisco and they laid down what would become the album’s title track. It’s clear this jam session is entirely unrehearsed. JLH and VM can be heard prompting each other throughout the 10-minute back and forth duo.
Some things don’t need to be explained. Just listen.
* Someday perhaps, these dormant recordings will be polished and eventually released. It would be great if Van had a Let it Be musical epiphany — where old tracks that were left vaulted in the studio were given to a Phil Spector-like producer, who cleaned up the Beatles January 1969 studio tapes and pressed the collection into what became the group’s final album.
DAY 46 — “Someone Like You” (1987)
The word *masterpiece* is overused in art and music. But “Someone Like You” is an almost perfect song. It’s a masterpiece.
From the very first lyric….
I’ve been searchin’ a long time For someone exactly like you.
…..we become immersed in song.
“Someone Like You” remains one of Van Morrison’s most endearing compositions and most popular songs, even today, more than three decades after its release. “Someone Like You” is one of the most played and requested songs at weddings and anniversary celebrations. It’s easy to understand why from both the gloriously uplifting melody and the lyrics which promise, “the best is yet to come.”
The track appeared on Van’s 1987 album Poetic Champions Compose. The album received mixed reviews from critics and sold poorly. It peaked at #90 on the album charts in the U.S. “Someone Like You” was also released as a single and did manage to reach #28 on the charts. However, at the height of MTV’s influence and the popularity of music videos with younger and hipper performers, Van’s simple love ballad wasn’t contemporary enough for the times. It was more of a throwback. Nonetheless, as most of the dreadful music from the mid-1980s has since disappeared and been forgotten, Van’s ode to love has become a timeless classic that’s likely to endure for many more years, and even decades to come.
“Someone Like You” includes a simple instrumental arrangement. There are no flashy guitar solos or sax interludes. The stars are Van’s vocals backed with a piano and string section. Critics’ reviews wrote Van’s gruff voice and off-key lyrics don’t quite fit the conventional notion of a romantic ballad. They’re certainly right. That said, the odd imperfection of this mismatched mature baritone gives added authenticity and even surprise to the joy of finding love in the song.
This composition was included in the soundtrack in several hit movies. This list includes Only the Lonely (1991); Prelude to a Kiss (1992); French Kiss (1995); One Fine Day (1996); Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001); and American Sniper (2014). There was even a movie made using the title song, “Someone Like You” (2001).
Van has written, composed, sung, and performed a vast array of musical styles over 55 years as an artist. He’s rarely written short tracks suitable for radio airplay or gone along with the record company marketing and promotion gigs (refusing to make music videos, for instance). This song stands as a notable exception. Van almost seems determined to prove here that he can write a crowd pleaser when he really wants to. Thing is, he’s not much interested in satisfying others so much as pursuing what he wants to do — a life’s mantra which from a fan’s point of view can be both frustrating and exhilarating.
DAY 47 — “I’ll Take Care of You” (1993)
Van Morrison is at his soulful best on Too Long in Exile, a 15-track collection of jazz-and blues-inspired recordings released in 1993. It was an odd album title given that Van wasn’t exactly “in exile,” certainly not from songwriting and performing. Indeed, this was the follow-up project to a successful double album, Hymns to the Silence, which pre-dated a two-year hiatus until this album release. For fans, the wait was well worth it.
Every track on Too Long in Exile sounds timeless. It was the first of a staggering six-albums/in a four-year string with his new Polydor label, arguably his most creative output since the early 1970s. The album rocketed to #4 in the UK and reached #26 in the US, despite producing no hit singles. That reveals the overall quality of the material.
“I’ll Take Care of You” is dominated by Van’s vocals and harmonica. However, this is not an original song. It was written by Brook Benton and recorded by Bobby Bland in 1959, and covered by Van, who has often dipped into the retro catalog of R&B classics. Later, Elvis Costello, Joe Bonamassa, and even Miley Cyrus recorded this song. Van’s version is a standout.
DAY 48 — “You Gotta’ Make It Through the World” (1978)
Van Morrison’s longest layoff from the recording studio lasted nearly three years, from 1975 through 1978. He did record enough material for at least two albums within that time frame, but he wasn’t pleased with the outcome. Songs from those sessions were not released and are only available as outtakes from bootlegs. So, Van’s long-awaited “comeback” album was greatly anticipated but ended up as a critical and commercial disappointment. While much of Van’s music has enjoyed a well-deserved renaissance, this album is often overlooked and forgotten.
A Period of Transition was intended as a definitive statement. “Gloria,” “Brown-Eyed Girl,” and “Moondance” were in the past. 1978 was a new era.
The mid- to late-70s was the height of the disco period. Singer-songwriters disappeared from the charts. Synthesizers and bellbottoms were in. Van’s blues and jazz roots, not to mention his polyester pants and pudgy look, marked him as a relic.
A Period of Transition illustrates this period of confusion and uncertain musical footing. Van’s talent as a songwriter was proven and obvious. But, could he change with the times and be relevant heading into a new decade among a new generation of fans who looked at Van as nostalgia?
This album didn’t answer that question, though it was a noble attempt. In fact, it raised even more questions about Van still being worthy as a voice in music. Wavelength, the best-selling album which came soon after, helped Van get back on track with his fans. Nonetheless, the recordings don’t express a statement, but rather a search. Even iconic songwriters go through ups and downs.
“You Gotta’ Make It Through the World” is from the panned album, which was entirely produced by Dr. John. The track has a catchy 70s Superfly sound, a mix of R&B and funk. It’s a glorious failure, but an interesting revelation into an artist always willing to push boundaries and test new sounds. Dr. John later said there was a real spiritual quality to the song, which is about one thing — survival.
Note: This is a condensed version about half the length of the original album recording.
DAY 49 — “Van Morrison Under Review — Part 2” (Documentary)
Here’s a short documentary clip that covers Van’s career between 1966-68. Later chapters of this film will be attached as this series continues.
Miss a previous week? No problem! Here’s all the prior installments:
Late last night past midnight, ALL 53 REPUBLICAN SENATORS voted AGAINST a Senate resolution to call Trump’s former National Security Advisor, John Bolton to testify in front of the American people.
Think about that.
EVERY single Republican stonewalled the pursuit of truth and justice.
John Bolton, a first-person witness to charges of impeachable crimes, a man who has stated publically repeatedly that he is *willing* to testify — Republicans blocked it.
What is the party of panting Trump lapdogs afraid of? Why did they block one of the most important witnesses in the Ukraine scandal from coming forward and testifying under oath?
This would be like Republicans in 1973 blocking John Dean from testifying in the Watergate hearings. At least most Republicans back then had integrity and were honest. Now, they’ve tumbled into the abyss.
Republicans have ZERO credibility. They’re nothing more than Trump toadies. Every single one of them. Without exception.
Research and polling reveal that about 67 percent of Americans believe Bolton and other key witnesses should be called to testify. More than two-thirds of Americans, and nearly HALF of all Republican respondents. Yet, every Republican blocked the measure. Every motion to allow testimony and additional documents — and there were 11 such instances yesterday — was BLOCKED.
Ask yourself — what are they hiding? Trump even says he would step in and block Bolton from testifying, by invoking “executive privilege.” Hmmm. Does this sound like someone who is *innocent?*
Total scum. Trump. All the Republican senators. His waffling dirtbag attorneys. Every one of them.
So, how are the 2020 New Year’s resolutions going?
Now so good, huh?
You’re not alone. Here’s my 20-day update into the year 2020:
RESOLUTION #1: Lose Weight
People carrying a few extra pounds typically announce that they’re going on a diet when a new year begins. A week later, we’re at the All You Can Eat buffet pounding down a second slice of cheesecake. Sure, we want to lose weight. But why kid ourselves? We’re not chasing a magic number. A weight scale shouldn’t be our barometer of happiness. Instead, our goal should be — to get healthier. To feel better. Losing weight shouldn’t be the end game, but rather one numerical consequence of striving for something higher. There are certainly ways to reduce one’s weight (so, I hear), but they aren’t always healthy. Some are even risky. Our top priority should be to enjoy life to the greatest extent possible. Sure, I’d like to drop a few pounds. But if I get through the year 2020 at 225 pounds (my current weight) and maintain my health, that’s a victory.
RESOLUTION #2: Travel Less
I love traveling. That is, once I get there. Unfortunately, the journey getting from point A to B is often a miserable experience. Flown lately? Been strip-searched by overzealous TSA agents? Paid nearly the cost of the air ticket for baggage fees? Been sardined into a middle seat? Sat beside the rapper yapper or the screaming infant? Leisure travel can be a tremendously rewarding experience. But traveling just for the sake of going somewhere and then returning home again is often more stressful than a typical workday spent at home. Especially if you’ve got kids or pets and have to board them (board the pets I mean). I hope to travel less in 2020 unless there’s a first-class hotel and wine involved.
RESOLUTION #3: Manage My Stress Better
Zen philosophy is becoming increasingly popular. I can certainly understand why. The problem with Zen is, it encourages us to disengage from challenges. I wholeheartedly reject this approach. Some things in life must be confronted. Always. Always. Always. And passion is the rocket fuel that lights the engine. Vested emotions and intensity can be a great motivator. Sorry, but Zen people don’t usually change the world. Action-minded people do. Those with passion do. I want to get fired up about life, not skate through it calmly. Forget worrying about rocking the boat. Rock the hell out of it. That’s my motto.
RESOLUTION #4: Drink Less Alcohol/Quit Drinking
If drinking is a problem in your life, then, by all means, do try to cut back and/or get some help. But let’s face it. Drinking serves as a wonderful bonding experience for many people. Without drinking, I doubt many people would be as close as they are. Booze is both a sugar cube and a truth serum. While this freedom can be dangerous when abused (and there’s lots of abuse), the loss of inhibitions can also be tremendously liberating. Think of it another way. I have a theory that outlawing bars (and forbidding drinking/intermingling of sexes) in Muslim countries frustrates the hell out of a lot of people, especially young men, and that’s what causes much of the world’s problems. Here’s a thought: Open bars all over the Middle East. Acts of terrorism would be cut in half. Yes, I believe that. As for me, I plan on drinking exactly the same amount with the same frequency in 2020 as I’ve done in the past. I see no reason to make changes. And, to reiterate my point — some places in the world need a lot more drinking, not less.
RESOLUTION #5: Get Out of Debt
I’d love to be debt-free. I’d also like to be 25-years-old again and a member of the Rolling Stones. Fact is, when the date December 31st, 2020 rolls around, most of us are still going to be in hock up to our asses to the banks. We’ll still owe on our mortgages, own credit card debt, and have to beg some joker dressed in a golf shirt for a new car loan. I take a much simpler approach, a goal I can actually achieve. It’s this. Try and stop the bleeding first, which means not to take on any more debt. That’s the first goal everyone currently in debt should have, since our poor spending and saving habits likely got us into trouble in the first place. Especially me.
RESOLUTION #6: Eat Healthier
I don’t believe in diets of denial. I want to eat good food and plenty of it. That means I won’t be ashamed of enjoying my large portions, my red meat, my loaded baked potato, my real butter, my rich desserts, my deep-fried foods, and pretty much whatever I want. That said, I refuse to eat fast food or consume prepackaged garbage that’s sold in supermarkets because that’s poison. And, I’ll never drink a soda, which is packed with sugar and chemicals. Never! So, that means I can enjoy just about everything else so long as it’s natural. A side note: I suffered a health scare late in 2019, so this might change — but all tests showed diet wasn’t a factor.
RESOLUTION #7: Be a Better Father/Husband/Friend/Son/Whatever
Sounds all warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it. The mantra goes something like this — I don’t spend enough time with so and so, which means I must change. Says who? You work hard, right? You earn the bread, right? You love your family and friends and are there for them when they need support, right? I think it’s vital to be comfortable in our own skin. You also need your time, just for you. If people get offended by the things you say or do, maybe the problem lies with them — not you. Think about that. Be who you are and take time for yourself. You probably deserve it. And there’s no reason to apologize for feeling this way, just as those you care about also deserve their own time and space.
RESOLUTION #8: Go Back to School/Get an Education
I’m all for learning. But getting an education doesn’t have to cost you 30 grand a year. The education lobby and the lending cutthroats have warped our sense of reality. They’re loading up millions of kids with crushing amounts of debt, and then providing few tools to escape the chains other than slaving away for years to pay off the loans (this is entirely by design). Yes, I believe people should learn as much as they can, and get an education. However, it’s far easier to read a book on your own, or become part of a social club, or join an Internet group which provides opportunities to learn just as much. And, it’s basically all free. Self-learn. Take a guitar lesson online. Get a library card. Volunteer to coach a kid’s soccer team. I’ve done all three. Learning shouldn’t be a once-a-year resolution. Education should be a lifelong mission that never ends.
RESOLUTION #9: Donate Blood/Give to Charity
This one will piss-off some people. I’ve donated blood before. Many times. However, many blood banks (and drives) are nothing but scams. Make sure the blood you give is really going to someone needy and won’t be sold off for a profit by some medical company. When it comes to donating time or money to a charity, be sure they do what they say. And check out the salary of the head honcho running the show (non-profits are required to make this information public). Some of the biggest charities in America are detestable, horribly-managed, money-making enterprises. I give to charity when I can. But I refuse to give anything to a charity that pays fat salaries to its executives or is based in ridiculously expensive cities like New York and Washington. Move the charity to someplace where operating costs are significantly cheaper so more good can be done. The point is — give, but with greater discretion. I also volunteer, once a week. I wish I could do more, but this is the right balance. I recommend trying to find your own balance, whatever it is.