Albums almost abandoned, and one that was

Emmylou, Joni, and Herbie

Hissing of Summer LawnsWhile listening to Herbie Hancock in early April, his birth month, I was reminded by two albums almost abandoned by their owners to me. Another one actually WAS given to me.

Around 1995, a choir friend was complaining about the new Emmylou Harris album, Wrecking Ball, that she’d just purchased. She was a huge Emmylou fan, but Wrecking Ball was not her cuppa.

It was produced by Daniel Lanois, who had produced or co-produced albums for U2, Peter Gabriel, and Bob Dylan, among others. Additionally, Lanois was also a solo artist; I’m quite fond of his Acadie album.

My choir buddy decided that maybe she’d get rid of Wrecking Ball. I said, “Give it to me!” But she decided to keep it. I wonder if she ever warmed up to it.

Emmylou, also born in April, shows up on so many of my albums. In addition to her solo stuff, she’s a background singer for Lyle Lovett, Neil Young, and so many more. She’s on albums with Mark Knopfler, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Linda Ronstadt, and of course the Trio albums with Dolly Parton and Linda, the complete set of which I bought in 2020.

Joni and Herbie

Back in 1975, Sue, the girlfriend of my friend Jon – who I’ve lost track of – picked up The Hissing of Summer Lawns, the new Joni Mitchell album. She did not know if she’d keep it because it was too different from what she had expected. I said, “Give it to me!” But she decided to keep it. I wonder if she ever warmed up to it.

The album is transitional to a more experimental sound (Hejira, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter et al.) I liked it. BTW, her birthday is in November.

My late friend Donna was kvetching about the 1996 Herbie Hancock album The New Standard. It was a jazz cover album of pop songs by Peter Gabriel, the Beatles, Babyface, Sade, Prince, and Simon and Garfunkel. She was a jazz fan, but she did not like this. She said, “Do you want this?” I said, “Heck, yeah.”

Hancock’s 1998 album, Gershwin’s World features Joni on vocals for two songs, The Man I Love and Summertime. His 2007 album River: The Joni Letters is a tribute album featuring cover songs written by Joni, with an eclectic group of singers

The songs

Though they are very different, because these three artists have been so eclectic, I think of them fondly in the same way.

From Wrecking Ball

Where Will I Be? with the songwriter, Daniel Lanois
Wrecking Ball, written by Neil Young
Orphan Girl, written by Gillian Welch

From The Hissing of Summer Lawns, the first three songs

In France They Kiss On Main Street, which could have fit on her previous studio album, Court and Spark
The Jungle Line, which would not
Edith and the Kingpin – I heard Rebecca Jade do a great cover of this recently

From The New Standard

New York Minute  – co-written and originally performed by Don Henley
You’ve Got It Bad Girl – co-written and originally performed by Stevie Wonder
All Apologies – written by Kurt Cobain, originally performed by Nirvana

Me and Donna George

DONNA L. GEORGE, Staff Member Albany United Methodist Society
Born: 27 Oct 1949; Died: 20 Sep 2002

I had this friend named Donna George. I knew her from work with the socially active Albany United Methodist Society. I don’t know why, but certain people, including a particular pastor, treated her quite badly, taking advantage of her goodwill. I think that, at some level, I felt a lot of sympathy for her. Ultimately, she saw our relationship one way, and I another, yet we managed to maintain a friendship in spite of that.

In 2002, she was diagnosed with brain cancer. Knowing she would be incapable of making decisions very soon, she got three or four of her friends to come to St. Peter’s hospice to explain her wishes that we divvy up her music, books, and art and give them to various buddies before she died, lest her family, from whom she was mostly estranged, could get their hands on them.

I was one of the folks in charge of the music, giving this person some Sinatra, and that person some classical albums, et al. I held onto a Beach Boys box set, which I had given her, and I also kept the Roberta Flack album Quiet Fire, for it contained a cover of the BeeGees’ To Love Somebody, which represented in song what she wished our relationship would be. I requested it on Coverville back in February (Roberta’s 75th birthday), and Brian Ibbott played it at the 18:50 mark.

The minister who gave her such grief was at the funeral, as was another adversary. I was so miffed.

There was an article in the local newspaper about her contributions to social justice, but I haven’t been able to find it. All I could retrieve was this letter to the editor, which is, remarkably, still relevant, unfortunately.

Albany Times Union (Albany, NY). (July 28, 2000): News: pA14.

A recent letter to the editor pointedly noted that, in a Times Union photo, a customer in a food pantry line was talking on a cell phone. The writer sarcastically asserted how nice it was that this allegedly poor person could have this convenience while waiting for free food.

This strikes me as an instance where what is “fashionable” allows certain groups to be “fair game.” We look at a photo, assume the worst, and crow about it, knowing that many will buy in, based on very limited evidence.

Yes, this person might be the owner of the cell phone. But here are some other possibilities. The person could need to make an important call for a prospective job at the exact time of his/her appointment at the pantry, and someone lent the phone to solve the dilemma. I know a mom who is among the working poor (the fastest-growing pantry population) who makes other sacrifices so she can have a cell phone to be in close touch with her children while she is performing her job duties — which often require her to be on the go. A relative might provide the gift of a cell phone so that a working parent can stay in ready touch with the children.

The possibilities are nearly endless. But popular views of people in poverty tend to allow for none of these. They are poor and they should have nothing — certainly no “frills!” If they do, they are “getting one over” on the system. All of this is part of a false “them” and “us” way of thinking, and being that it is rampant today, is certainly at odds with both secular compassion and the habits of the heart of any faith community I can think of. We can all do better than this.

DONNA L. GEORGE, Staff Member Albany United Methodist Society
Born: 27 Oct 1949; Died: 20 Sep 2002

Stevie Wonder is 60

Stevie Wonder is 60 years old today. Only 60? Seems that he’s been around forever. I guess that’s what happens when you’re dubbed the “12-year-old genius.” Wish I had the time to indicate all of his significance in my musical life. Among other things, I’ve stated that he and Paul Simon were THE two most important artists in my record collection in the 1970s. Here are just some highlights.

Really don’t remember the earlier singles, such as “Fingertips, Part 2”, except as an oldie. The first song I recall listened to, on the radio, was Uptight (Everything’s Alright) in 1966. I loved it! Later, I got an album from my sister’s godfather, of all people, of Bill Cosby called Silver Throat, where he sings a parody of Uptight called Little Old Man.

My sister owned the 1966 album Down to Earth, containing the title track and A Place In the Sun, the latter a song written by Stevie that everyone at the time seemed compelled to cover. I owned 1970’s Signed Sealed Delivered.

Possibly my favorite Wonder song in the early years was 1967’s “I Was Made to Love Her”

I owned the so-so 1967 Someday At Christmas, though it contains THE great secular Christmas tune, “What Christmas Means to Me.”

Jump to the seventies, the classic period: I owned every album Stevie put out, starting with 1972’s Talking Book (with Superstition and You Are the Sunshine of My Life); 1973’s Innervisions (Higher Ground, Living for the City), and 1974’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale (You Haven’t Done Nothin’ (with The Jackson 5), Boogie On Reggae Woman. I remember hanging out, more than once with one of my political science professors, at his house, listening to those latter two albums.

One of my personal anthems after the breakup of my college romance came from Talking Book and started with:
“Shattered dreams, worthless years,
Here am I encased inside a hollow shell,
Life began, then was done,
Now I stare into a cold and empty well”
With the hope of a future with someone, yet unknown:
“I believe when I fall in love with you it will be forever.”
I find that song still makes me incredibly wistful.

I remember watching Paul Simon’s famous quote on the Grammys when he won for Album of the Year for Still Crazy After All These Years (another melancholy linchpin). In his acceptance speech, Simon jokingly thanked Stevie Wonder for not releasing an album that year; Wonder had won the previous two years, and would the following year.

In the gap between FFF and the next album, I discovered 1971’s Where I’m Coming From and Music of My Mind from 1972, the latter album particularly underrated.

The Grammy winner for 1976 was Songs in the Key of Life, featuring Sir Duke, Isn’t She Lovely, Sir Duke, and my favorite As. It also featured Pastime Paradise, which was later transformed into Coolio’s Gangsta Paradise, which was in turn parodied as Amish Paradise by Weird Al Yankovic.

I bought this 3-LP retrospective called Looking Back, which contained all his charting singles from 1963 through 1970.

1979 brought the strangely unsatisfying, and sometimes weird double album Journey through the Secret Life of Plants, but it was followed by the solid Hotter than July in 1980, with Master Blaster (Jammin), I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It, and the song that helped make the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday a reality, Happy Birthday.

Have all of his subsequent albums that contain new material, some pretty good (Characters), some not so much (Woman in Red soundtrack).

I had this friend Donna. One of our shared passions was Stevie Wonder. At one point I put together a mixed cassette of songs he performed on that were NOT on Stevie albums for her. Didn’t have We Are the World (a great duet with Springsteen) or That’s What Friends Are For (a bit treacly). But it did include, I believe:
That collaboration with Paul McCartney on the latter’s Tug of War album. It is NOT Ebony and Ivory. What’s That You’re Doing, Stevie back in form, and Paul at his rubber soul best.
I’m the One Who Loves You from Tribute To Curtis Mayfield
St. Louis Blues from Gershwin’s World (Herbie Hancock)
Let’s Get Serious by Jermaine Jackson
Seasons of Love from Rent
A couple of songs from Quincy Jones albums
*Others from this list
Donna died a few years back and I wish I had made a copy of the playlist for myself.

Stevie is mostly in the accolades mode, Gershwin award and the like. Strange for a man so relatively young. His album of five years ago I wasn’t thrilled with, and he puts out more compilations and reissues than new stuff. But in his prime, he was a sensational singer/songwriter. His keyboard playing was revolutionary at the time. So I must wish HIM “happy birthday”.

a Stevie Wonder YouTube channel
Official site

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