Saturday, April 4, 2020

Strange Days | Lefsetz Letter

I bought it the day I went to see “Last Summer” with my mother at Fairfield U., it was a screening with Frank and Eleanor Perry in attendance. I remember Frank saying they only used source music, that there was no score. And I was instantly wowed by Barbara Hershey, I didn’t seem to remember her from “The Monroes,” and honestly I didn’t quite get the rape scene at the time, this was before the #MeToo movement, this was before I was sexually active, this was long before we knew that Richard Thomas would become famous as John Boy and that Bruce Davison’s hair would go prematurely white. And when the web exploded, certainly after the year 2000, I looked up Catherine Burns, I always want to know what happened to people. Not much in her case. But checking up on Wikipedia just now I found out she died a year ago, of a fall and cirrhosis…when the spotlight fades and you get old do you turn to alcohol?

That’s one thing that’s not written about, how the older you get, the less you want to go out. You can never drop by. I’m not a big fan of Sebastian Maniscalco, but he does an amazing riff on this:

Sebastian Maniscalco: What’s Wrong With People?

(I know you’re inundated with links, but you should really click through on this one, because Maniscalco nails it and you’ll laugh and smile at the same time.)

There’s this talk about how the older you get you can’t burn the candle on both ends, but I’m not a big believer in this, actually I never liked to burn the candle on both ends, I hate being tired and in a fog. And the concept of people doing coke for days and never sleeping, that doesn’t sound fun to me. Although I do love to stay up all night, but I want to sleep the next day. But the bottom line is older people don’t go out just for the sake of it, they’ll go to an expensive dinner with their friends, they’re just not out at bars hunting for action. My point here being that for many boomers self-quarantining is not the big deal it is for younger people.

Searching for the best night of my life, and to be honest I had quite a few, I imbibed plenty, but then you never scale the heights again and you feel lousy the next day and something happens that makes you give it all up, at least that’s what happened to me. I never loved the taste of alcohol, I never hungered for a beer, but if you wanted to have fifteen and seek the aforementioned best night of your life, I was the person to call.

Also, the funny thing is the more money people have, the more worried they are about costs. Kids’ll pay fifteen bucks for a watered-down drink before adults will, but I’m digressing.

I instantly became a huge fan of the Perrys, that’s what happens when you see someone live, same deal with a good band, and went to see their next flick, “Diary of a Mad Housewife.” That’s the one that starred Carrie Snodgress, who went on to live with Neil Young. I knew who he was singing about in “A Man Needs a Maid.” That’s when music and movies were intertwined, not by soundtracks, not by financial impact so much as being on the bleeding edge, the essence of the cultural zeitgeist. You’d go to the movie and come out numb. Like after “The Last Picture Show.” Maybe the last time this happened was in ’79, with “The Deer Hunter,” now you leave the movies and want to get a meal, after all, the empty calories on screen don’t fill you up.

I probably would not remember the day I bought “Strange Days” if it didn’t coincide with the “Last Summer” screening. My mother made me go. My mother is a culture vulture. Staying home was never in her playbook until now, contradicting what I said above, there are always exceptions, but in today’s gotcha culture personal police are constantly informing offenders of exceptions, as if they denied the essence of what was said.

So I’d taken the VistaCruiser in the afternoon to buy the album.

But I’d had very little time to play it.

I’d skipped “Strange Days.” I went straight from the debut to “Waiting for the Sun” and “The Soft Parade.” I might be the only person who liked “Soft Parade,” the critics hated it and have been piling up on it ever since. Of course, the hit was “Touch Me,” which I never loved, but I could not get enough of “Runnin’ Blue” into “Wishful Sinful,” and what came next, of course, was the title track.

When I was back there in seminary school
There was a person there
Who put forth the proposition
That you can petition the Lord with prayer
Petition the Lord with prayer
Petition the Lord with prayer
You cannot petition the Lord with prayer!

People used to quote this to me all the time. But no one has recently. It’s like everybody’s lost their energy to be clever, to connect through art, the oldsters are all about possessions and lifestyles, where they are on the socioeconomic ladder, even though they professed they all wanted to be in it together back in the sixties. That’s the biggest change I’ve seen, income inequality. There are certain things people can do that others will never be able to. Like in the “Times” today, they talked about two girls taking the same class at Haverford. One was sequestered at her parents’ mansion in Maine (and it is a mansion, at least for a second home, you can see a pic here:

College Made Them Feel Equal. The Virus Exposed How Unequal Their Lives Are.

and the other was working her parents’ food truck in Florida.

Now after being excoriated by the critics, the Doors went back to basics on “Morrison Hotel,” but they didn’t get as much ink, and this was before every burg had its own underground FM station, when most people only heard the hits.

And then Morrison died, and critics have been piling on ever since, but they all seem to agree the last album, without Paul Rothchild, “L.A. Woman,” is really good.

Now I never ever hear anybody talk about “Waiting for the Sun” these days. However, “Love Street” epitomizes the sixties more than all those documentaries, it sounds like it was cut in L.A., with sunshine and opportunity, which is why everybody wanted to move to California, they wanted to be free.

But you hear even less about “Strange Days.”

Until now.

1. “Strange Days”

This was no “Break On Through.” “Strange Days” was not a Stones album opener, at best it was an introduction to what followed. It was good, but it was not spectacular, it was not something your friends had to hear when they came to your house, which was a regular activity when we all had different albums and played them for each other.

2. “You’re Lost Little Girl”

Dark. Sure, the Doors had radio hits, but it was their darker material that bonded their fans to them. Hit music today is not dark. After all, when you construct a song by committee no one opens a vein and admits their flaws and foibles, in a group you want to fit in, and you might be able to call yourself a “geek,” but “loser” has never come into favor.

I bought “Strange Days” in the fall. The days were getting shorter, and when it’s dark outside, it’s the more personal, darker tracks that resonate.

3. “Love Me Two Times”

Don’t trust the statistics on this. The web will tell you that this made it to #25 on the singles chart, but you never heard it on AM in the New York area. Oh, you heard it on FM underground radio, but that was not for everybody, certainly not yet.

And listening right now on the Genelecs, via Amazon Ultra HD, I’m stunned how good this sounds. That changed the music, the poor reproduction methods that started to become de rigueur in the nineties, when suddenly a boom box was a stereo. And now reproduction is so bad, through tiny earphones, that the bass is emphasized in recordings and all nuance is lost. So, even if you want to take a lot of time to make an exquisite sounding album, almost no one is ever going to hear it that way.

4. “Unhappy Girl”

We were unhappy. At least I was. There was no web, there was no way you could connect with like-minded people all over the world, instead you were either popular or you were not. And if you weren’t, you spent a lot of time in your home, listening to music, fantasizing, dreaming, that you were in the bar with Jim encountering an unhappy girl, thinking that the two of you would connect.

5. “Horse Latitudes”


No one else was doing this. And since we played these albums from beginning to end, we knew it. It seemed like artists testing limits, something that is not part of the mainstream today.

6. “Moonlight Drive”

The sixth song on side one, which was actually a lot at this time, people had started to go down to five. Sure, you could make a double album and have almost sixty minutes of music, but this was long before the seventy-odd minute CD era when there was too much music to digest, the single-oriented web is a reaction to that.

A good track, that once again, made one think of Los Angeles, after all, we’d seen enough movies of this.

And now, I’m gonna do what Deep Purple did when I went to the Wiltern to see them perform “Machine Head” in its entirety, I’m gonna flip the second side and save the best for last, as Vanessa Williams sang. You know, when the snow comes down in June. Actually, I’ve seen that, and if I ruled the world it would happen every year. I loved this song so much, I taped it from MTV so I could hear it whenever I wanted to, this is what you used to do before the internet. And last year I had dinner with Ms. Williams and she was so forthcoming and open, most celebrities are on guard, but if they feel simpatico, they’ll open up and tell you anything. You see artists are a tribe, and even though most people love the work, they don’t truly understand those who made it.

4. ‘When the Music’s Over”

A poor man’s “The End,” at least that’s what it seemed like to this listener, even though my understanding is its creation predated the issuance of the initial LP. I liked “When the Music’s Over,” but it seemed pedestrian compared with “The End,” it didn’t quite resonate the same way.

3. “I Can’t See Your Face in My Mind”

Dreamy. Part of the album, but not really memorable.

2. “My Eyes Have Seen You”

It struck me back then how there were two songs in a row about seeing, didn’t offend me, but I just thought there was somebody involved who would nix this. Did you read the obits of Bill Withers? Columbia told him how to do it, so he just stopped. Another reason why today’s era is better than the old one, however we do have miles to go to coherence.

1. “People Are Strange”

Once again, don’t trust the stats. They say “People Are Strange” made it to #12 on the singles chart, but the truth is most people didn’t hear it until FM rock radio was ubiquitous, then it became a staple, maybe played infrequently, but enough to the point everybody knew it.

People are strange, definitely, but not as strange as the era we’re in.

We don’t know if we’re gonna live or die, whether to be on total lockdown or ease the rules just a bit, whether only old, infirm people will die or it could happen to anybody. There are no answers. We’re used to answers, look at the web, you can look up anything! But when it comes to Covid-19…

One thing is for sure, we were unprepared, and the virus is still ahead of us, we’re still trying to rein it in, get control of it. Meanwhile, people are still denying it’s a big deal.

It’s eerie, just like this song, just like “Strange Days” itself.

That’s why “Strange Days” endures, it’s strange and a bit distant itself. I can’t name another album that sounds like it. If they were looking for a hit single, they were so far off the mark it’s funny. I mean the next album had “Hello, I Love You,” which seemed to be a blatant attempt for radio attention, with an interesting sound, but vapid lyrics. And, unlike anything on “Strange Days” it was in your face. Hits grab you immediately, get stuck in your brain but never migrate to your soul. It’s the album cuts, that which is left of center, that resonates and changes your life.

So, “People Are Strange” has been running through my brain every day for weeks.

But I don’t think I’m the only one.


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