Sunday, November 5, 2017

Hey, Western Union Man | Lefsetz Letter

I’ve written about this before.

Been one of those days, my computer speakers blew up, now what? That makes three dead sets on my desktop. And the manufacturers of all of them have gone out of business. Do I spend a lot, the internet seems to recommend Audioengine, or do I go for cheapies, those JBL clear ones for $160, or maybe sequence to Sonos Ones, but that’ll be good for Spotify, but not everything.

The night before was wonderful.

Coran Capshaw was being honored by the City of Hope. And although the entertainment was Trey Anastasio and Dave Matthews, nobody listened. And although the food included sushi, it seemed like nobody ate, everybody was so busy TALKING! It was like a reunion, people from across the country you see once a year, or once every couple of years, we caught up, talked about Trump and Weinstein, I coulda stayed there all night. Actually, I did, just about closed the place.

And I was so revved up I could not fall asleep. I don’t know about you, maybe you’re integrated, but not me, most of the time I’m alone in front of a computer screen, and to tell you the truth I don’t want to hang with most people, but there are certain environments that are so satisfying and rewarding I could stay there forever, like summer camp, like that month in Mammoth, like last night.

So I’ve been in a fog all day. And my Fridays are now like college Fridays. You remember those… You’d stay up late, 3 or 4, playing records, getting high, getting drunk, and although I do neither of those anymore on Fridays I stretch out, I rarely get to bed before 3, which is to say I read two days of papers through and through and found out the kneeling has had no effect on the NFL, they studied it, ratings are down because there’s too much football, but no more in red states, which you’d expect, and although I read this in the WSJ, it’s amazing how the scuttlebutt is wrong, all the bloviators on TV, and then I read about the Netflix ratings, which are inherently inaccurate, since they don’t include tablets and phones, but “Stranger Things” is a smash, let me look it up, 15.8 million people watched the initial episode the first three days, 4.6 million watched the entire series last weekend, and that shows the power of programming, a hit, that’s as much as the “Walking Dead,” as many as “Game of Thrones.”

And then I watched Bill Maher, which is depressing because political comment seems to have no effect, the Republican party has rallied around Trump, fearful of being primaried, and then I went out for a hike, just shy of midnight, it was cloudy, yet bright, because there’s a full moon, and it’s cooling down, a SoCal November, which means it’s hovering around 60, and then I walked in the door and took out my contacts, which for some reason were foggy, and on Spotify I heard…

Hey, Western Union Man.”

I’m shuffling all my tracks, it’s pretty fascinating. And the last time I wrote about this was when I discovered the original by Jerry Butler on XM, but the version that hooked me was on Al Kooper’s initial solo LP, “I Stand Alone.”

Al not only played the organ on “Like A Rolling Stone,” he formed Blood, Sweat & Tears, and got kicked out of his own band, which then went on to monster success with his formula, but the irony is no one ever plays that album anymore, fans just spin the original, “Child Is Father To The Man,” which is spectacular, and it’s this formula that’s employed on “I Stand Alone.”

The flourish on the Butler original is strings, but on Kooper’s take of “Hey, Western Union Man,” it’s horns, the track starts with a flourish right out of Philadelphia, kinda like “Rubberband Man,” BUT THAT CAME AFTER!

It’s like you’re at a castle, but the king is hip, the trumpeteers are part of an ensemble, they’re wearing uniforms, but not military, they’re infected by the sound, they’re not standing still, they’re swaying with the music, you can only stand at attention.

Oh, Western Union Man
Send a telegram

That’s right, now it’s just for moneygrams, but it used to be the quickest way to send a message, the e-mail of its day.

This is what I want you to do
I want you to tell her that I’m all alone

The scourge of humanity, it’ll keep you in a bad relationship, it’ll have you hanging with boring people, because staring at the four walls can drive you to suicide.

And if a telegram don’t do
Send a box of candy too
And maybe some flowers
Tell her that I missed her for hours and hours

That’s lyric writing. The twists and turns, the image, the compactness.

And, as Lou Reed said politically incorrectly back in ’72, the colored girls sing…


They don’t make ’em like this anymore, this sound isn’t even replicated, a sound you’d hear in nightclubs, with big bands, Steely Dan goes out with a horn section, but no one else wants to pay, but the horns put the whole thing over the top.

And after the flourish of the chorus, with everybody wailing, the whole thing breaks down, just a bass, and Al testifying, right in the middle of the number, and then…

Listen to me…

Tell me have you got a boy you can send
This is what I want him to do
Put him on his bike right away
And see if he can get my message through
Date it tomorrow
But mail it today
I want the girl to know that I miss her
Something like yesterday

Nobody even knows about mail anymore, the Post Office is for junk and Amazon on Sunday, but you used to live for what came in the box.

And the hook is that chorus…all about sending a telegram, and just when you’re wishing for it, that horn flourish comes back and there’s literally a telegraph beeping in the track, literally everything, including the kitchen sink, has been included, all you can do is jump up and jive, thrusting your arms in the air, willing her to come back.

That’s the power of music, it’s why women are drawn to musicians, how do they come up with this, how do they lay this sound down, a sound that has yet to come back.

Greta Van Fleet is bringing back rock, but no one seems to be bringing back the big dance bands, all we’re left with is records, deejays, and it’s just not the same.

Do you hear what I say?

I bought Al Kooper’s solo LP because I loved Blood, Sweat & Tears that much. I was a white boy in the suburbs, in an era of experimentation after the British Invasion had started to fade, but the truth is there were people older than me who’d experienced history and knew the greatness of these soul tracks.

Like “Hey, Western Union Man.”

Hey, Western Union Man – Spotify

Hey, Western Union Man – Youtube


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