It was just a few years ago that I regularly ran into Sylvain’s Rampage of Songs, a night of youtube clips on Facebook. They were the delightful mashup of rock, old rock, rnb, and great stuff you’d expect. His energy in that enterprise was so so Syl!
We’re on first person terms because I lived in an apartment on Mott Street near Prince back in the 70s that had some carvings in the window sill that convinced me that the previous tenant was Syl Sylvain.
It may not have been true, but the carvings were real (they said Syl Sylvain if I remember correctly) and there were plenty of musicians in that building. In those days when I walked through the village I was often mistaken for Lenny Kaye. Why wouldn’t we live in Syl’s bathtub in kitchen tenement apartment?
I hadn’t seen the Dolls back then. I was in high school when they broke up. I did see them when they got back together in the late aughts with Earl Slick playing Johnny, at Bowery Ballroom. Earlier that day I was at the dentist, and the radio was promoting an REO Speedwagon show at the Garden, an oldies show. I went to see the remainders of the Dolls and they were very fine, most notable because Syl was so committed to bringing back all they had before with them to the now. Old but not oldies.
And it worked, mostly. David is great, first name though I don’t think I’ve lived in one of his places, but Syl seemed to believe that that night mattered completely. Like a Phil Spector production.
Which doesn’t say that much about the magnificence of the Dolls who I championed in high school over the logorrheic Bruce Springsteen. But the music says all about Syl.
I didn’t know Erik, I think I emailed him once, but maybe it was someone else in Hans Condor. They were a Nashville band that gloriously went on a Japan tour, and leave behind a great album and at least one terrific video.
So this isn’t a personal reminiscence.
But a lot of Nashville loved Erik. Reading the remarks would be emotional (a young person dies) but his generosity is legend.
I can remember the first time I heard Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town. I was in the Grand Union supermarket in Smithtown NY. My memory is that I was buying a box of a new popcorn product that came in a black box (radical design back then) with lots of smart-alecky copy on it, but I can’t recall the product name (turns out Smartfood wasn’t introduced until 1985) and who really knows. But the song is a fact.
It’s really an amazing song, catchy, spare, with a narrative that his expansive, as much not said as is said and implied, almost epic yet also close up and exact. Kenny Rogers didn’t write it, Mel Tillis did, and Waylon Jennings first recorded it in 1966, but it was Rogers and The First Edition who made it a hit in 1969.
Ruby wasn’t The First Edition’s first hit. That was Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Is In), which is a pretty excellent example of commercial garage rock. Moyer would note the excellent face-making of the guitarist during his solo, and the excellent chops of the tambourine player.
The First Edition eventually broke up and Rogers went on to have a long career as a MOR singer, bit actor, award-winning celebrity. His two No. 1 songs were Lady and Islands in the Stream, the latter with Dolly Parton. He also sang on We Are the World, for what it’s worth. He died earlier this week.
I spent a couple of days in Miami back in the 70s with a friend, visiting a woman who said this song was written about her. I had my first Cuban sandwich that week, too.
I’ve always wondered why it wasn’t the Lefte Banke?
EDIT: This Wikipedia entry suggests my friend’s friend wasn’t being truthful. Or was mistaken.
Sometime in the late 80s I had, with partners, a film company. People would send us tapes of their films, in hopes that we could find a way to help them get their film distributed. In any case, a guy from Chicago sent me a film, I think it called Reconstruction, and I think I liked it just fine. I think that now because I got to the end credits, under which played a simple song simply arranged sung in an innocent and tuneful bleat. I watched through the credits to find out that the singer was Daniel Johnston. The song wasn’t this one:
Johnston went on to have an interesting career as an indie artist, one known for his struggles with bipolarity and the charmingly appealing art he made, as well as many collaborations and tributes by admirers such as Kurt Cobain and Tom Waits. For more you can read his obit in the Guardian here. My period of Johnston fandom was fairly short, the sound of innocence and wonder wear down after a while, but this song is a keeper:
Frank created a book of photographs called The Americans back in the 50s. It’s a terrific book of strikingly straightforward and revealing images full of, um, Americans.
Jack Kerouac wrote the introduction to The Americans, an obvious choice at the moment On the Road ruled the world. Kerouac also wrote and narrated Frank’s first film, a shambling tale of New York City’s bohemian lives, called Pull My Daisy. You can view it here.
Frank, of course, took the photos that made up the collagey cover of the Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street.
Frank also made a tour documentary with the Stones at about the same time. It is called Cocksucker Blues and the Stones, who have said they thought the film was excellent, sued to keep it from being released because its explicit sex and drug scenes were too much even for them.
A deal was reached that allowed Frank to show the movie five times a year provided he was in attendance. I remember one year leaving the Rolling Stone magazine Christmas party early to see the film at the Anthology Film Archives on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. You can find the film in pieces on You Tube, from time to time. Frank clearly wasn’t policing the copyright, nor were the Stones, as evidenced by this music video that uses some of the film.
Frank also made some dramatic films that drew notice, though the only one I saw was a shambling road picture featuring a who’s who of cool rock dudes in the late 80s (I’m talking guys named Johansen, Waits and Strummer, plus Leon Redbone).
This seems to be the whole film with German titles.
Final bonus video with Frank’s Super 8 film of the Stones.
I’m always feel badly when I learn way too late about a songwriter who wrote a song I really like. Donnie Fritts wrote Breakfast in Bed, which was recorded by Dusty Springfield, with Eddie Hinton.
He also wrote, with Hinton, the Box Tops’ Choo Choo Train.
There is an obit here, an interesting guy who led an interesting life, never finding the fame but being famous all over.
I didn’t know Duncan by name, but he was a vocalist and guitar player in the Quicksilver Messenger Service, one of the great San Francisco bands of the late 60s. Quicksilver made a great impression on me with the brilliantly adolescent and epic first song on their first album.
QSM were nothing if not quintessential hippies, living on a commune, jamming constantly, living on health food and drugs, as this obit describes. But Duncan had an earlier incarnation as a musician in The Brogues, whose I Ain’t No Miracle Worker was included on Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets collection.