I post a weekly diary of historical notes, arts & science items, foreign news (often receiving little notice in the US) and whimsical pieces from the outside world that I often feature in “Cheers & Jeers”. For example …..
DIRECT DESCENDANTS? – folksinger Woody Guthrie and TV star Luke Perry.
OK, you’ve been warned – here is this week’s
tomfoolery material that I posted.
ART NOTES – an exhibit of photography from our national parks entitled Pleasure Grounds and Restoring Spaces is at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Florida through October 6th.
SIGN of the APOCALYPSE – the former lead singer of the Sex pistols, John Lydon – who rose to fame as Johnny Rotten – is to receive an Icon Award from the music rights firm BMI this coming October in London.
BRAIN TEASER – try this Quiz of the Week’s News from the BBC.
FRIDAY’s CHILD is Arlo the Cat – British Columbia kitteh who was located three days after escaping a building fire.
ART NOTES #2 – a reviewer in the Guardian newspaper lists her favorite seascapes of all time.
EDUCATION NOTES – in no other country have schools based upon the methods of Maria Montessori spread so widely or been so successful as they have in the USA – with such Silicon Valley icons as Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia) and Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google) among those whom her legacy touched.
SATURDAY’s CHILD is Bob the Cat – who is listed as Bob Loughran, the owner of an Omaha, Nebraska auto repair shop … so that telemarketers don’t disturb Bill Loughran (the real proprietor).
FOR THOSE Swedish Muslims who live north of the Arctic Circle: they have long pondered how to observe Ramadan – when devout Muslims fast from sun up to sun down for a month – in a land where the summer sun never sets ….. with some choosing to wait to fast until the autumn, or else to follow the Mecca (or Medina) time.
DIRECT DESCENDANTS? – civil rights activist (and widow of Malcolm X) Betty Shabazz and tennis champion Serena Williams.
……and finally, for a song of the week …………… someone I suspected nearly twenty years ago might be a here-today, gone-tomorrow pop singer was Joan Osborne – whom I couldn’t have been more wrong about. She has become one of the most versatile popular music singers I can think of: not only with her own material, but has appeared on stage with blues, country, R&B and even classical performers. Not everything she tries succeeds … but even when it doesn’t, you’re glad she made the effort … and it’s hard to think of a genre she couldn’t somehow make her own.
The suburban Louisville, Kentucky native found success in New York like another female singer, Mary Travers (of Peter, Paul & Mary) …. except that Joan Osborne didn’t accompany her family at a young age: instead, enrolling in NYU film school in her late twenties. While there she began singing at open-mike nights, where her musical influences (Etta James, Billie Holiday and Ray Charles) helped convince herself that this was her career path. She decided (in that pre-Internet era) not to seek a major label deal, but rather to form her own record label, Womanly Hips – which released some early live performances. In addition to some early songwriting attempts, it included covers such as The Beatles’ Lady Madonna, Cat Stevens’ Wild World and the blues classic Help Me by Sonny Boy Williamson.
Eventually she received an offer from Mercury Records, and her first major release was entitled Relish – which came out in 1995. This contained the song One of Us – which reached #4 on the US charts, and was used as the theme song for the CBS television series Joan of Arcadia (which ran from 2003-2005). With minor hits such as St. Teresa and Right Hand Man, she received several Grammy nominations (for both the song and the album) and her career was launched, with an invitation to perform on the Lilith Fair tour of 1997.
She took her time before recording her second album, which Mercury Records filled-in with a re-release compilation of those earlier recordings. Meanwhile, she became involved with Rock the Vote as well as Planned Parenthood – which even garnered some death threats.
Finally in the year 2000, she released her follow-up album Righteous Love – which garnered some critical praise yet had no hit singles to propel record sales, hence it garnered little airplay. The year 2002 saw her delve more deeply into R&B: with her own album How Sweet It Is and she also appeared in the documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown that involved recording some new material with the surviving members of the Funk Brothers – the relatively anonymous back-up band for that label. This association didn’t end that year, as I saw Joan with the Funk Brothers at the 2004 Montreal Jazz festival – a free show, too.
The year 2003 saw her first perform with members of the Grateful Dead (Phil Lesh, as well as Bob Weir) plus their reunion tours as The Dead – similar to the way that another border-state versatile musician (Bruce Hornsby) has done. And those collaborations have continued from time-to-time up to today – in fact, earlier this week she did an online show called Dead Set – with three fan-chosen Grateful Dead covers.
In 2006 she reached back to her country music roots with the album Pretty Little Stranger – including covers of songs by Rodney Crowell, Patty Griffin and Kris Kristofferson – with an appearance at the Grand Ole Opry in February, 2007. That same year she released her latest foray into soul music with Breakfast in Bed and the following year reunited the team that helped produce her major-label debut album, and recording Little Wild One.
Her most recent (2012) album is a venture into the heart of the blues, with Bring It On Home – featuring guest appearances by Allen Toussaint, Rufus Thomas’ daughter Vaneese and the Harlem-based Holmes Brothers – earning a Grammy nomination in the process.
Along the way, she has never lost her activism: working on the Half the Sky movement founded by NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. The liberal blogger Eric Alterman has been a big fan of hers, and Joan was delighted to hear “One of Us” used on the TV program Glee in the past few years.
Possibly the best way to describe her versatility is to list some of the artists she has performed on-stage with. These include Stevie Wonder, Melissa Etheridge, Taj Mahal, Luciano Pavarotti, the Funk Brothers, Cheap Trick, Bob Dylan, and the Chieftains – if there is a pattern there, I fail to discern it.
Joan Osborne has a tour beginning next month in California – including one date in Ontario – and just this past weekend appeared in Vermont for a benefit show helping businesses still recovering from Hurricane Irene two years ago. Having just turned age fifty-one, she would seem to have a future in this business.
On her most recent blues album, I was delighted to see that she had a cover of a wonderful John Mayall ballad from his album The Blues Alone in 1967. Although I cannot embed it here: I hope that you will go to this link and listen to Joan sing a fine version of Broken Wings – the lyrics of which speak for themselves.
Somebody broke your wings
Little bird, you can’t fly
Somebody hurt you bad
Beaten down enough to cry
And the price you had to pay
you’ll be paying in years of your life
Somebody is to blame
Can’t you see I’m feeling sad
Somebody got away
and it makes me feel sad
And the price you’ll have to pay
you’ll be paying in years of your life
Somebody’s gotta help you
I believe I love you so
Somebody’s gotta touch you
I don’t believe I’ll let you go
And the love I have to give,
I’ll be giving in years of my life