You got to time to breath; you got time for music

I was talking to an old friend from church the other day about Allison Krauss and bluegrass music. I asked her if she remembered The Darlings from the Andy Griffith Show. I was explaining to her how Bluegrass bands are always so serious or expressionless while they play. The Darlings (The Dillards in real life) made a joke of it in the show. I don’t claim to understand it; but I could listen to Bluegrass all day.

First the Darling Family:

And then a very young Allison singing Heaven’s Bright Shore:

Have we been keeping up with our reading?

Camille Paglia’s latest: (read all three pages)

June 11, 2008 | Shuddering, lurching and stumbling, the 2008 general election has finally, mercifully begun. For a year and a half, U.S. voters have been flogged like a prison gang through the nine circles of media hell. The two dazed survivors of the primary process, John McCain and Barack Obama, are now warily circling each other, looking for an opening even as they try to shed the already hardened public perception of their character and motivation. – read the rest….

Check your pulse

If this doesn’t take your breath away, check your pulse. (Hint if your connection isn’t the fastest: Hit play, and after a second or two hit pause.Then let the video load for minute or two and hit play again.)

This Week in South Side History

Bloody 1953 bank heist hit silver screen

Movie gave boost to then-unknown Steve McQueen

by Jim Merkel

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At 94, Melburn Stein has been retired longer than he served in the St. Louis Police Department.Yet he still has dreams about April 24, 1953, when he was nearly killed more than once in what was to become known as the Great St. Louis Bank Robbery.

The sensational robbery at the Southwest Bank at South Kingshighway Boulevard and Southwest Avenue attracted a crowd of police officers and onlookers.

It ended with a police officer injured, two bank robbers dead and one robber injured. The getaway car’s driver eluded police but was quickly caught.

One robber took his own life, saying “They’ll never take me.” Stein killed the other one as the robber rushed to the front door using a woman as a shield.

The bank’s directors, who were holding a board meeting in a room in the bank, threw their wallets in a wastebasket and hid under a table until police used tear gas.

In the end, police recovered the entire heist – $141,000.

It was the stuff you’d see in a 1950s crime movie, and people in Hollywood agreed. In 1959, United Artists released a movie about it, “The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery,” starring a new actor named Steve McQueen.

The man who played Stein had a special knowledge of the part. It was Stein himself, ordered by the city police board to play the role.

“Frankly, I didn’t think McQueen was all that great,” Stein said, adding that McQueen was distant and self-contained.

Living in Creve Coeur and still spry enough to cut his own grass, Stein credits his Marine Corps training to saving him amidst the gunfire. It told him to bend down and become a smaller target.

Stein shot the robber holding the hostage after she passed out of his line of fire.

“It was a calculated shot,” Stein said. “I had plenty of time to think about it.”

The dying robber went for a .38-caliber revolver in his belt and almost shot Stein. Fortunately, Stein noticed what the robber was doing.

“I reached down and got the gun,” Stein said. “Just to think about it gives me the creeps.”

Stein stayed on with the city department and retired in 1973 after 31 years.

The officer who was injured, Cpl. Robert Heinz, didn’t do as well.

A bullet that struck him in the head lodged in the skull around the ear and was not removed. He lost his equilibrium and had to retire.

Last week, retired Southwest Bank President Ed Berra showed off the old vault that had held money stolen in the robbery. Now an advisory board member and a consultant to Southwest, Berra started with the bank in 1959.

After the robbery, the bank increased the numbers of armed guards or introduced them at branches that didn’t have them, said Berra, 78.

Pictures on the wall of the Southwest Bank office include a newspaper photo of the robbery.

“I can’t believe that’s over a half-century ago,” Berra said.

Note: I hope Jim Merkel will forgive me using his article as my blog entry. Jim, if you ever read this, just remember who made you famous as the Grinch.

Death to America; Captain America, that is

You may have heard by now, that Captain America was assassinated the other day. I guess a little surprising to me is all the hoopla that has been made of it. Is it symbolism for something bigger, like the death of some aspect of Americanism? Yeah, sure; but I couldn’t help but to be reminded of a Captain America series from back in the day. Yes, I read and collected Marvel Comics and I followed Captain America and this all took place during the early 1970′s. Let’s see now…what was going on at the time? Hmmm…let’s see; an unpopular war led by an unpopular president. It got me reflecting on that series, which I remember well. At the end the evil genius behind the whole big dastardly plot was none other than the President of the U.S. To be honest, it was a big ho-hum to me. But, of course, I was 15 years old when the last issue was published and, well, let’s just say that an evil president didn’t stack up in my view to the likes of the Red Skull.

But do these stories have any social value? Absolutely, they do. They are (or will be) like mini-history books; no different than the ads in the comic books that harken back to yesteryear. I ran across this commentary from the end of my Captain America from the guy who was writing it at the time, Steve Englehart:

CAPTAIN AMERICA was my third Marvel series. It was being considered for cancellation when I got it, because it had no reason for existence. Stan Lee had written it for years, and it was clearly his least favorite book; the stories had become not only lackluster but repetitive. Gary Friedrich had picked it up a year before and done some interesting stuff, but he hadn’t stayed long; then Gerry Conway did two issues as a stopgap; and then I got it. The problem across the board at Marvel was that this was the 70s – prime anti-war years – and here was a guy with a flag on his chest who was supposed to represent what most people distrusted. No one knew what to do with him.

Me, I had been honorably discharged from the Army two years earlier as a conscientious objector – but I was supposed to also be a writer. So I did something for the first time that marked everything I’ve written since. I said, “Okay, if this guy existed, who would he be?” Not “Who am I?”, but “Who is Captain America?”

Six months later, the wayward book slouching toward cancellation was Marvel’s Number One title, and I seemed to have found my career. I’d also found an artist, Sal Buscema, who could draw exactly what I envisioned, so it was all good.

So I had asked myself “Who is Captain America?”, and had found an answer for the man. Thing was, America was moving from the overarching Vietnam War toward the specific crimes of Watergate.

I was writing a man who believed in America’s highest ideals at a time when America’s President was a crook. I could not ignore that. And so, in the Marvel Universe, which so closely resembled our own, Cap followed a criminal conspiracy into the White House and saw the President commit suicide.

And that was the end of Captain America…

And, just for fun, here’s a scan of an ad from one of my Captain America comic books circa 1970..

Comic Book Ad from 1970

Say Goodby to Mr. Rhythm

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Sometimes called Mr. Rhythm, sometimes called Old Man Jazz; undisputedly “America’s Number One Song Stylist,” Frankie Laine passed away today at the age of 94. He had more than 70 charted records, 21 gold records, and worldwide sales of over 250 million disks. His list of records/songs/hits is simply unbelievable. To sum up his relevance, he was the bridge between the crooners and the early white Rock N Rollers like Elvis. It’s an era that gets largely neglected, but just talk to someone who was coming of age during late ’40′s and early 50′s and they’ll tell you about Frankie Laine, Jo Stafford and Patti Page. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for these types of performers. How I long for just a glimpse in today’s performers of the professionalism and versatility that these guys had.

Good show Mr. Pitney

genepitney.jpgI was introduced to Gene Pitney when Annette’s brother Joe was getting married in Denver many years ago. I forget exactly how the multi-talented Pingel family figured I was the best one for the job, but nonetheless, I was asked to sing and play at Joe’s wedding. So, the song Joe and his lovely wife-to-be picked out? True Love Never Runs Smooth by Gene Pitney. Gene who? I asked. I’d never heard of him. I know, I know, you’re aghast at the thought. Just remember, I was raised on Alice Cooper and Ted Nugent. Anyway, I still remember Annette telling me to stop trying to sing like Gene Pitney; it wasn’t working for me. I didn’t care though, I had to try in order to get the feel of the song. She still gets me on that. Whenever I go to learn a song I sing like the artist that I’m copying. She tells me to cut it out ‘cuz I cant’ do it, I say I know, leave me alone, and usually by the time I have to sing it, I’ve figured a way to sing it normal-like. With the Gene Pitney song, I remember initially thinking, “no way can I do this song.”

So, the tape that Joe made for me to listen to for the wedding had some of his greatest hits on it, and over the years, I learned to absolutely love him. His vocal performance was second to none. Some of the songs that really stand out in my mind are: Half Heaven – Half Heartache, I’m Gonna be Strong and Only Love Can Break Your Heart. What starts off as a queer little sound ends up being powerful and confident. (Esp. I’m Gonna Be Strong.) Then, what you’re left with is this strength…wow, what a voice. His obituary from the BBC describes his voice as “at once plaintive and melodramatic.”

Well, still no word on the cause of death. He loved performing and did it ’till the last night of his life. That’s the way to go.

We the pee…

barneyfife.jpgWe the pee…pul; We the pee-pul! That’s what I think about when I think about Don Knotts. There are so many, of course. But, that episode where Barney goes through the entire Preamble without remembering a single word; well, it just doesn’t get any better. Don Knotts died yesterday at age 81. That same day I received a birthday card from Jennifer. A Barney Fife birthday card, that is. Barney on the envelope and on the card. It was special.

Yes, my birthday is Monday, the 27th. Tonight, we spent a quiet evening at Becky’s with just Mom, Russ and Becky & Steve. It was very nice. This morning, at his request, I picked up my Dad for church. Methodist Church, that is. He usually attends with Judy at her Catholic service, but she was out of town so he wanted to come with us.

No special plans for tomorrow. I have three lessons in the evening; that pretty much fills the whole night. In fact, everyday this week is booked already. Wed. is Ash Wed. already! I can’t believe it. Spring and baseball are not far behind.

Thanks to all who sent well wishes for my birthday. I’m sorry for not writing more. Here’s a couple of old blog entries when I referenced Barney or Mayberry:

Spring is Here from March 19, 2004

First Real Front Porch of the Year from April 16, 2005.

It’s time you gave a listen

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Alison Krauss + Union Station land 3 (more) Grammys!
- Best Country Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal
- Best Country Instrumental Performance
- Best Country Album

If you’re saying to yourself, “I gotta get me some of that,” allow me to help. Start with one of her older tunes I’ve Got That Old Feeling from the CD of the same name. Then, also from that disc, It’s Over. Then jump to Ghost in This House from Forget About It. If that one doesn’t get you, then just stop, there’s no need to go any further, you must be dead. But, if you’re still alive go ahead listen to The Lucky One from New Favorite. She singing this song to me, though I’ve told her repeatedly that I’m a happily married man, but I thanked her nonetheless.

Reuters called her “Queen of the Grammys,” because of her record 20 awards at the young age of 34.

Giant steps are what you take

OK, you guessed it; I’m listening to the Police. I finally figured out a way to import all of Emily’s itune folders into my itunes. Now, mind you, I let most of them be, but she had some good ones. Music she learned to like from her old man. Beatles, Dylan, etc.

News today from Apple about another new IPod Nano. I just might have to get me one of those. Right after I get my laptop, that is.

We watched Saturday Night Live the other night. Musical guest was Prince. I have to admit, he was awesome. Really, really good. Speaking of his first song: just a good old fashion rock song. He was playing the part of classic rock guitar hero which he’s quite adept at. Derivative? Sure, but honestly, the simple construction and execution of the song was refreshing if only because I’m tired of seeing the angst-ridden falsetto-singing faces of the twenty-somethings that usually take up space on SNL. His second song he acted as back-up to a girl named Tamara. I don’t know what her story is yet; I couldn’t find much about her on the web. It was a Christian song from what I could tell.

We also started watching Love Monkey on CBS. It’s a great show. Tom Cavanagh of Ed fame stars as a Music Producer. Well, just watch it, you’ll like it.