When I Get Off’a This Mountain

RIP, Levon Helm 1940-2012

Today Levon Helm, the fantastic drummer/vocalist from the legendary The Band, sadly lost his battle with cancer. Levon will always be an important part of my life because his music played a part in helping me break out of my shell.

Back in the day, the mighty Herb Griffin and I, after many appearances in the audience, became guest stars of the fabulous Frank Jaklitsch when he performed at J.K. McZak’s in Middle Village. And our biggest songs were either Beatles classics, Blues Brothers tunes (complete with dark glasses and sometimes porkpie hats) or songs by The Band. Our favorite one to perform as a trio was The Weight, but Up On Cripple Creek was also a big fave, and always included the famous “Levon face”, mimicking Mr. Helm’s passionate mug as he flawlessly drummed and sang simultaneously. Now before McZak’s I was a poetry-writing, insecure, borderline nerd boy, but alcohol mixed with great music and the new-found ability to perform in front of an audience led me on the road to the career writer, slightly insecure, extremely outgoing, borderline nerd boy that I am today.

Thanks, Levon. May you rest in eternal peace. And may you forever give ’em the ol’ Levon face up there in Heaven.

By the way, my favorite The Band song? When I Paint My Masterpiece, led by Levon’s stunning vocals. Enjoy.

Published in: on April 19, 2012 at 10:56 pm  Comments (11)  
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March Master

As the faithful readers of this blog (all half dozen of them) are well aware, I’m not very timely with my posts. Heck, if that was the case, I’d be posting every other day. And I had every intention of this post being on time, but well, it didn’t work out…But anyway…

Maestro Ifukube at work

May 31st is the birth date of the legendary Japanese composer Akira Ifukube (1914-2006). Maestro Ifukube is best known — with good reason — for his Godzilla film scores. Beginning with 1954’s Gojira, Ifukube composed a slew of memorable kaiju scores among his more than 250 film credits. He also created the legendary Godzilla roar, it’s said by rubbing a leather glove along a double bass with loose strings, and the Big G’s footsteps by slamming an amplifier box. So it’s easy to see why, even though he was an award-winning composer in his 20s, created numerous orchestral, vocal and other classical works, and taught for many years at the Tokyo College of Music, Ifukube is most synonymous with Godzilla.

The Maestro and his muse (a shorter version)

And why not? Honestly, I would put his military marches for the G movies up there with anything in film, including the tandem of Kenneth Alford’s “Colonel Bogey March” & Malcolm Arnold’s “The River Kwai March” (from The Bridge on the River Kwai, natch) and even Elmer Bernstein’s iconic theme song from my beloved The Great Escape. And a big part of the reason for this is my daughter.

Best of Godzilla 1954-1975

Best of Godzilla 1984-1995

Well, OK, I’ve been listening to this music since I’m a little kid, but it wasn’t until I was older that I purchased a couple of terrific CDs, “The Best of Godzilla”, which I keep in the car for easy listening when the mood strikes, or when the child wants to listen to them on the way to school. Heck, sometimes I listen to them myself! But my daughter takes it to the next level, since she knows all the words (and arm movements) to the Mothra theme. She also sings the Japanese lyrics to some non-Ifukube songs, but that’s for another discussion.

My favorite is the score for Destroy All Monsters, and the main title theme my daughter and I call “Monster’s March”.

And you can’t beat the entrance music for the Big G, or the unforgettable fight music with bold, brassy horns, lyrical strings and booming percussion. The Maestro’s last G score was for director Ishiro Honda’s last G movie, Terror of Mechagodzilla…until…he came back for 1991’s Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. And thankfully he did, because some of his scores for the 90s G movies are among his best in my opinion. Especially the bombastic main title theme to 1993’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.

Or even better, next to the incomparable Ennio Morricone’s theme for Once Upon A Time In The West, one of the most beautiful pieces of film music I’ve ever heard is “Requiem” for Godzilla vs. Destroyah, Ifukube’s final film score.

But he ended his Godzilla career on a solid note, with one of the best end credits themes ever, and my second favorite next to the end credits for West Side Story. It’s a freakin shame that the DVD cuts off the credits before not only the entire music could be heard, a mix of some of Ifukube’s best moments from early G scores, but also clips of the King of the Monsters from throughout his resume. A fitting end to a stellar career for both. (Until they brought Godzilla back again…)

Published in: on June 5, 2011 at 8:27 pm  Comments (7)  
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When The Music’s (Thankfully Never) Over

When it comes to music, Genesis is my favorite band. Others that are up there near the top include The Beatles, Rush, Led Zeppelin, and Foo Fighters. But there’s one band that I’ve loved since my silly teen years that I keep coming back to over and over. An immortal band that produced incredible music in a (way too) short period of time. A band whose frontman may just be known more for burning out quickly than his musical talent. That band would be The Doors.

The Doors themselves

Every studio album is a classic from start to finish. The Doors, Strange Days, Waiting for the Sun, The Soft Parade, Morrison Hotel, L.A. Woman. Even Absolutely Live is great.

Recently, I finally watched my DVD of When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors, written and directed by Tom DiCillo (Living in Oblivion) and narrated by Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd, etc etc etc). Bought the DVD the week it came out and, like all DVDs I buy, it sat on the shelf neglected until the mood struck me at the same time I had time to watch it. Actually, I made time, opening up a fresh bottle of wine at 11 pm and firing up the DVD player. And as my interest grew with each passing moment, history was made. (OK, maybe just in my mind.) Damn, what a fantastic movie.

Cool poster, too

I’ve read so much about The Doors through the years, from No One Here Gets Out Alive by Danny Sugerman to Riders on The Storm by John Densmore, to a Doors book that’s hiding somewhere among my 30 or so waiting to be read, and have always been entertained. The saga of Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore fascinates me. And this film was no exception.

Placing The Doors (who were only a band for 52 months) in their historical context by combining a band bio with short commentary on the turbulent 1960s, DiCillo uses only actual footage of the band to tell their story. Still photos, home movies, interview clips, live performances, concert footage. Sure, it’s been done before, but so what? It’s mesmerizing. Maybe the footage from the lost Jim Morrison movie “HWY” is a little bit of a miss, but hey, where else are you going to see that? The DVD also includes an interesting short interview with Morrison’s father and sister. I could go on (great soundtrack of course, good narration by Depp), but you should just see it for yourself if you haven’t already. Especially if you’re a Doors fan.

P.S. It’s been a great year for music documentaries. In addition to When You’re Strange, the terrific Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage was released, giving Rush a seemingly new relevancy. (Even though they’ve never gone away and are still making awesome music.) And there’s the long-awaited Lemmy, which premiered at the South by Southwest festival this year, and will hopefully be coming to DVD soon. Those three alone are a great year for any genre of film.

Published in: on August 29, 2010 at 10:52 pm  Comments (5)  
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