This is a lovely little song that is actually the first song on Lucy Wainwright Roche’s first ep, “8 songs,” from 2007. In some ways it is about the difficulties of reaching out in order to connect with other people, but it could probably applied to cultures and people more generally. Lucy’s voice also has some beautiful warm tones that further underscores the song’s message. Oddly enough (and I’m not quite sure why this seems relevant), Lucy was actually a teacher before she was drawn into the family business of folk music (on both her mother and father’s side). In any event, I’m glad she made that choice.
This is Martha’s performance of “I Am a Diamond,” a song by her late mother–Kate McGarrigle, and two aunts, Anna and Jane. This recording is actually from Sing Me the Songs that Say I Love You, which is a recording (available on CD and DVD) of a memorial concert for Kate. Her brother Rufus takes second lead, singing in a remarkably high register. The sisters apparently wrote the song for an intended musical about the life of Cassie Chadwick, which unfortunately was never produced. Originally born as Elizabeth Bigley in Eastwood, Ontario in 1857, she seems to have been involved in check fraud while still an adolescent and then followed her sister Alice down to Cleveland Ohilo in 1875. Here she assumed the first of a series of alternate identities, as Madame Lydia Devere, a clairvoyant, which she seems to have financed with fraudulent bank loans. After a brief marriage to Dr. Wallace Springsteen in 1882 (he filed for divorce after being confronted with her bad debts), she set her self up as Madame Marie LaRose, another clairvoyant, meeting her next husband, John Scott, who she married in 1883, but only after getting him to sign a prenuptial agreement. She filed for divorce in 1887, citing adultery (seemingly her own).
Between 1889-93 she served four years in prison for forgery at the Toledo penitentiary, and then returned to Cleveland where, under the name of Mrs. Cassie Hoover, she set up a brothel on the west side of the city. At this place of business, she met her fourt husband, wealthy widower Dr. Leroy Chadwick, whose patients included many of the cities elite, some of whom had elaborate mansions on Euclid Avenue, also known as Cleveland’s “Millionare’s Row.” After marrying him in 1897, she asked a lawyer friend of her husband to take her to the home of Andrew Carnegie (one of the richest men in America at the time) , where she apparently checked (or pretended to check) the credentials of her housekeeper. When she came back she “accidentally” dropped a paper, which the lawyer took up; he was rather taken aback to see that it was a promoisssary note for $2,000,000 with Andrew Carnegie’s signature. After swearing the lawyer to secrecy, she “revealed” she was Carnegie’s illegitimate child, who showered huge amounts of money on her. The lawyer gallantly arranged for a safety deposit box for this promissary note, which was apparently one of many.
As secrets will, this one leaked out and Ohio banks began to offer her their services, which she availed herself of, securing some $20,000,000 in loans over the next eight years. She correctly guessed that no one would ask Carnegie for fear of offending him, and the interest rates on the loans was so usorious that the bankeers were hesitant to admit to granting them. For eight years, Cassie enjoyed the high life, buying diamond necklaces, thirty closets of clothes, and a gold organ, earning the nickname of “Queen of Cleveland.” Af the end of 1904 it all came crashing down when one of the bankers finally called a loan in; Dr. Chadwick filed for divorce and left for a European tour; and Citizen’s National Bank of Oberlin was forced into bankruptcy. She was sentenced to fourteen years in prison and a substantial fine, but died after serving less than two years, in October 1907. (The above is basically and abreviated version of her Wikipedia page). I hope the background is useful in making sense of the slideshow, if not necessarily of her character, although the McGarrigles’ lovely song offers an intriguing and sympathetic perspective upon it, further enhanced by Martha’s evocative vocals.
This is the first slideshow I have done for Lucy Wainwright Roche, Loudon’s daughter with his second wife Suzzy Roche. She is a memember of the Roche sisters, a talented folk trio, and she and Loudon obviously passed a selection of their musical gifts down to Lucy. Lucy has another studio album coming out in a few months, which I pre-ordered, and it got me listening again to her previous one from six years ago, There’s a Last Time for Everything. Her approach is completely different–almost opposite–to Rufus and Martha, who tend to do a kind of frontal assault on your emotions. Lucy tends to invite you to a comfortable, slightly nosalgic place and tends to win you over with her endearing sense of humor and remarkable warm tones. Anyway, this is a song called “Last Time” which I interpreted to be about the loss of the close childhood friendships. You could also probably interpret it as a song about the end of almost any close relationship, but I think my approach works reasonably well. Hope you like it.
“Little Sister” is Rufus in high classical mode, with very symmetrical violin figures. This makes sense, as I am fairly sure that the song is–at least in part–about the relationship between Wolfgang Mozart and his sister, Marie (aka “Nannerl”). She was actually four and a half years older than he was, and he first became interested in music watching his father Leopold tutor her. She too was a musical prodigy (esp. on the harpsichord), and she too toured the courts of Europe with her father and brother. Occasionally, she even seems to have gotten top billing. Unfortunately, she got older, was forbidden by her father to marry the relatively impoverished man she loved, and forced to marry a rich old guy. She also wrote music, which her brother praised, although virtually none of it has survived. There’s even a French movie about her (which I haven’t seen yet). I bring this up, simply because some of the song’s lines actually make much better sense if you see them as being about Wolfgang and Nannerl.
Of course, it is also about Rufus and Martha (although I couldn’t find any pictures of them sitting at the piano together). I was particularly struck by the “have no shame” line, a line that Martha herself seems to be recalling when she describes her growing up (I imagine it was pretty hard to compete with Rufus for people’s attention). Anyway, I wanted to put this up in part to announce my new Unofficial: Martha Wainwright page
In any event, I hope people enjoy the slideshow, and I’m looking forward to seeing Rufus again at Belly Up in Solana Beach on May 24th (my first chance to see Rufus perform in a club!).
This is essentially a Mother’s Day post, although I must admit that it is also a misinterpretation. I discovered only yesterday (on a Stingray interview) that
“Traveller” (from 2016’s Goodnight City album) is a song Martha wrote in response to the death of Thomas Bartlett’s brother, Ezra, from cancer at the age of forty in 2014 (Thomas co-produced and played piano on Goodnight City). I’ll include the interview as the first comment. It certainly changed the way I looked at the song. I had always thought “Traveller” was about her Mother, Kate Mcgarrigle, who died of cancer in 2009, and certainly many of the lyrics would seem to apply quite well to her tragically early passing. So well, in fact, that I am going to put it up as it is (I made the video-slideshow a couple of weeks ago), while acknowledging that it is in fact built upon a false premise. To me it seems okay to do this simply because the song speaks so eloquently to anyone who has lost someone in an untimely manner, but especially to cancer (which the song mentions). Ultimately, it may not be the most appropriate Mother’s Day post, but it feels right, and seems a fitting tribute to both Ezra Bartlett and Kate..
This slideshow is really the product of two different recent occurences. The first was the murder of 21 year-old Ebony Groves, 23 year-old Akilah DaSilva, 29 year-old Taurean C. Sanderlin, and 20 year-old Joe R. Perez. None of them were criminals. All were promising young people of potential, all killed by a relatively young white male with an AR-15. More probably would have been killed had not James Shaw Jr. acted heroically and grabbed the assault rife’s barrell with his hand and wrestled it away from the murderer. In mind, at any rate, it connected with other painful events, such as the shooting of 22 year-old Stephon Clark in Sacramento for holding a cell phone, or the killing of Walter Scott (which–highly unusually–resulted in a conviction for the officer involved). The other event that prompted me to make this slideshow was the opening of The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration in Downtown Montgomery, Alabama, and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, also in Montgomery. While I can’t say I ever had any desire to visit Montgomery before, I sort of do now. For some reason, I respond even more deeply to works of art than pictures on the news (it was only after making this, in fact, that I finally donated to the fund James Shaw Jr. had set up for the victims of the Waffle House Tragedy (There’s a link in the post below this one, if you are interested). The music is from Australian hard rock band Angel City, a track from their minor classic 1980 album Dark Room. I realize that the song is almost certainly about the difficulties of making it as a rock band in the music business, but it fits the general theme of the cultural and institional difficulities darker skinned people often have achieving success in America.
This seemed like an appropriate video-slideshow for Earth Day weekend. Martha actually has a lovely official video for this song, although this one takes a rather different approach, pushing it back in the direction of the original myth as well as the consequences of upsetting Mother Earth. Prosperpine, you may remember, is the daughter of Hera and is stung by a serpent. She is carried off to the underworld by Pluto. Hera pleads with Jupiter to bring her daughter back, and he agrees, but only on the condition Prosperina hadn’t eaten anything in Hades She had, unfortunately for Hera, eaten six pomegrante seeds (hence the pomegrante in Rossetti’s famous painting). Eventually it is decided that Prosperina will spend six months with her mother in the upper world, whose happiness is reflected in the warmth, fertility, and abudance of Spring and Summer, while the six remaining months (Fall and Winter) will be spend with Pluto in Hades. tt was apparently the last song Kate McGarrigle (Martha and Rufus’ mother) wrote before she died in 2009, so I imaginine it is quite a personal song for Martha, tragically expressive of a mother’s love for a daughter she will soon be separated from. I’m actually quite pleased with the slideshow, although only a few of the photos are ones that I took. It’s also my third Martha Wainwright video, which is now starting to look like an actual fan page.
If you are interested in my Unofficial: Martha Wainwright page, you can find it at this link here
“Sunshine” is an intriguingly complex song from Barenaked Ladies new Fake Nudes album about how the things we love can actually be harmful to us. While it has an obvious application to drugs and alchohol, I wonder if it couldn’t be said to be true about a lot of aspects of modern consumer culture. and even about individual human personalities (not everybody, perhaps, but possibly more than you might at first think). The slideshow probably makes the song a bit more about global issues than it actually is, although the larger application just seemed so glaringly obvious I couldn’t stop myself. It seems sort of appropriate with Earth Day coming up this weekend. Anyway, I hope you like the song and it’s accompanying slideshow, both of which seem almost painfully true, at least to me, although certainly not to everyone.
This is basically a video/slideshow that is a product of my visit to Ushuaia prison/museum in Patagonia last January. The prison hasn’t actually been in use in several decades; in fact, it has been turned into a museum by Chilean authorities. The building was basically designed as a panopticon, with five prison blocks radiating out from a central point, the idea being that you could keep all the prisoners under close surveillance from a single point. One of the blocks (included in the slideshow) has basically been preserved in its original state, although the cells are of course empty. Another block has been turned into a kind of prison museum, with each cell having an installation recounting a different aspect of the prison’s history or prison life. Another has art installations related to prison life, while another is a maritime museum, and a final one is a museum displaying the work of local artists, work that often focused on the heritage of the local indigenous peoples. I was and am quite entranced by the idea of turning a place of punishment, control, and incarceration into one of aesthetic pleasure, self-expression, and artistic freedom. It suggests the potential for a change for the better in both places and people, although I doubt it will be catching on in a big way any time soon. Anyway, I set all this in the context of Donovan’s lovely song, “Appearances,” from his Cosmic Wheels album. At least in my interpretation the song invites us to look beyond superficial differences and obstacles and towards the creation of a better, more just, and more beautiful tomorrow. In any event, I hope you like it, or at least listen to Donovan’s lovely song.
Today is the fifty-second anniversary of Phil Ochs’ death, and I thought I would repost this, which I have previously posted on the “50 Phil Ochs Fans Can’t Be Wrong” Facebook Group. This slideshow is more or less a capsule biography of Phil’s life, set to live recording (I think from Montreal) of him singing “Cross My Heart,” a song that encapsulates the contradictions in Phil’s life, contradictions that ultimately led him to take his own life, contradictions that ultimately reflect those that the America still faces. This is in some sense a calling card for a larger project, essentially a two man stage show designed for a small theater, in which one actor (who would need to be a talented high tenor as well as a better than competent guitar player) would play Phil, and the other would the playing various people in his life, starting with his college roommate Jim Glover, a brief appearance as Bob Dylan, Phil’s second manager Arthur Gorson, Phil’s third manager (and brother) Michael Ochs, and Yippee Jerry Rubin. In the second half he would need to be an FBI agent, a prosecutor, Phil’s friend Andy Wickham, and Phil’s protege Sammy Walker. About half would be Phil’s songs, and about half would be dialogue drawn from Phil published and unpublished writers and papers, biographies about him, and his FBI file. I realized from the start that there will be many legal hurdles and permissions to secure, but I have bought theatrical performance rights for a single production run to Marc Eliot’s Death of a Rebel: A Biography of Phil Ochs, which the script draws heavily upon and am currently negotiating for performance rights to about fourteen songs. I hope to be talking to a potential director this week, and at least least get some hints about the audition process as I will need two strong actors, one of whom will also have to be a gifted singer and guitar player, and the other comfortable with quick changes of fairly varied characters. I realize that I will lose money on the project, which I am trying to keep small scale (only about ten performances in a very small theater, probably in North Hollywood or Pasadena). Nevertheless, it feels like something I need to at least try to do, simply because Phil’s songs and story touched me so deeply (I did see him once, but I will save story that for another post).
Anyway, the real reason for this post is the video below, which I compiled last June, when I first conceived of this play project, drawing on internet photographs and a few which I scanned from Eliot’s and Schumacher‘s biographies of him. It seems an appropriate memorial on this aniversary of his passing.