Buddhist Monk Covers Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law,” Then Breaks Into Meditation

Back in April, we introduced you to Kossan, a Japanese Buddhist monk who has a penchant for performing covers of rock anthems--everything from The Ramones’ “Teenage Lobotomy,” to “Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine.” Now he returns with Judas Priest's "Breaking the Law." It's a curious cover, not least because he ends the song and breaks seamlessly into meditation. Metal? Meditation? Sure, why not.

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via Laughing Squid

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Ennio Morricone (RIP) and Sergio Leone Pose Together in Their Primary School Year Book, 1937

Little did they know where life would take them--and how their futures would be intertwined.

A great find by @ddoniolvalcroze....

The Film Music of Ennio Morricone (RIP) Beautifully Performed by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra Play: “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” & Much More

What we think of as "film music" today is a creation of only a few inventive and original composers, one fewer of whom walks the Earth as of yesterday. Though Ennio Morricone will be remembered first for his association with spaghetti western master Sergio Leone, his career in film scores spanned half a century and encompassed work for some of the most acclaimed directors of that period: his countrymen like Michelangelo Antonioni, Bernardo Bertolucci, Pier Paolo Pasolini, but also such commanding Hollywood filmmakers as John Huston, Terrence Malick, and Quentin Tarantino. Morricone didn't just write music to add to their films; he became a collaborator, without whose work their films would be difficult to imagine.

The result, in pictures from L'Avventura to Salò to Days of Heaven to The Untouchables to The Hateful Eight, is a union of the arts that transcends individual cultures. It doesn't matter what country you come from, what generation you belong to, whether you enjoy Westerns or indeed cinema itself: you know the theme music Morricone wrote for Leone's The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly the moment you hear it. 

Whether or not you've seen the movie, you'll appreciate the especially rich performance by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra at the top of the post, part of a 2018 concert called The Morricone Duel, a celebration of "a wide range of western movies and mafia movies reflecting different perspectives on an Italian-American movie and film music style."

The Morricone Duel's Youtube playlist includes the Danish National Symphony Orchestra's renditions of pieces from other Morricone-Leone collaborations like A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars MoreOnce Upon a Time in the West, and Once Upon a Time in America. Though the evening also included pieces from The Untouchables and Henri Verneuil's The Sicilian Clan, many in the audience must have thrilled most when the musicians launched into the overture from The Hateful Eight. They could hardy be more ardent Morricone fans than Tarantino himself, who used pieces from Morricone's existing Spaghetti-western soundtracks in Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds before making a western of his own, which wouldn't have been complete without original Morricone music. The Hateful Eight turned out to be Morricone's penultimate film score, but his influence will resonate through generations of cinema to come — and outlast, no doubt, the western and gangster genres themselves.

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Ennio Morricone’s Iconic Song, “The Ecstasy of Gold,” Spellbindingly Arranged for Theremin & Voice

Ukulele Orchestra Performs Ennio Morricone’s Iconic Western Theme Song, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” And It’s Pretty Brilliant

The Music in Quentin Tarantino’s Films: Hear a 5-Hour, 100-Song Playlist

Why Marvel and Other Hollywood Films Have Such Bland Music: Every Frame a Painting Explains the Perils of the “Temp Score”

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Ella Fitzgerald’s Lost Interview about Racism & Segregation: Recorded in 1963, It’s Never Been Heard Until Now

When Ella Fitzgerald took the stage for the first time at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, “we heard a sound so perfect” that the entire theater went silent, says dancer and choreographer Norma Miller. “You could hear a rat piss on cotton.” Fitzgerald was 17 years old, and she had already faced severe racial discrimination. “Everything was race,” says Miller, describing the de facto segregation in Harlem in the 20s and 30s. “You couldn’t go out of your zone… slavery is over, but you don’t have jobs. So the confinement meant you had to do for yourself.”

In 1917, a 2 year old Fitzgerald had traveled with her mother and stepfather from Newport News, Virginia, where she was born, to Yonkers, New York. They were part of the Great Migration that brought blues and jazz to Northern cities. Fitzgerald grew up sneaking into Harlem’s ballrooms to hear Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. Then at age 13, her mother died. Fitzgerald was devastated. She began skipping school and the police arrested her for truancy and sent her to a reform school.

Black girls at the school, writes Nina Bernstein in The New York Times, “were segregated in the two most crowded and dilapidated of the reformatory’s 17 ‘cottages,’ and were routinely beaten by male staff. There was a fine music program at the school, but Ella Fitzgerald was not in the choir: it was all white.” Fitzgerald escaped and made her way back to Harlem, where she slept on the streets. She stepped onstage at the Apollo’s amateur night as part of a dare and had originally planned to do a dance routine.

The year after her Apollo debut, Fitzgerald performed at Yale University with Chick Webb’s orchestra. She released her first single, one of the biggest records of the decade, in 1938. In 1939, she took over as bandleader and carved out a career in the following years that included tours in Japan, Europe, and Australia, where she became a huge sensation in 1954. In the states, however, she was still treated like a criminal. She missed her first two shows in Sydney because she and her pianist, assistant, and manager Norman Granz were thrown off the plane in Honolulu without explanation or recourse. (Fitzgerald later sued and won, as she explains in a 1970 CBC interview clip above.)

In 1955, Fitzgerald’s career received a major boost when Marilyn Monroe pressured the owner of Sunset Strip’s famed Mocambo to book the singer. “After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again,” Fitzgerald later recalled. That same year, reports USA Today, “she was arrested in her dressing room at an integrated show in Houston. When she arrived at the police station, an officer asked for her autograph, Fitzgerald recalls.” She rose above the ugliness with poise and grace and mostly preferred not to talk about it, though it surely took its toll. “She lived, she survived,” says cultural critic Margo Jefferson. “She became famous and she kept on keeping on—at what inner price, we don’t know.”

We do, however, have a slightly better sense of how she felt thanks to clips from a 1963 interview with New York radio host Fred Robbins that have emerged after going unheard for decades (beginning at :30 in the video at the top). Discussing her frustration with segregation in the South, she says:

Maybe I'm stepping out (of line), but I have to say it, because it's in my heart. It makes you feel so bad to think we can't go down through certain parts of the South and give a concert like we do overseas, and have everybody just come to hear the music and enjoy the music because of the prejudice thing that's going on.

I used to always clam up because you (hear people) say, 'Oh, gee, show people should stay out of politics.' But we have traveled so much and been embarrassed so much. (Fans) can't understand why you don't play in Alabama, or (ask), 'Why can't you have a concert? Music is music.'

The situation was truly "embarrassing," as she put it, for the country and for her and her fellow musicians. Fitzgerald had seen enough in her life at that point to understand how deeply entrenched racism could become. Hopeful about the future, she also recognized that there were some minds that would never change. “The die-hards, they're just going to die hard,” she says. “They're not going to give in. You've got to try and convince the younger ones, they're the ones who've got to make the future and those are the ones we've got to worry about. Not those die-hards."

Robbins had promised Fitzgerald that the interview would air “all over the world.” Instead, for reasons unknown, it was shelved and forgotten until author Reggie Nadelson discovered the recording in 2018 at the Paley Center for Media. Despite her reticence to speak out, Fitzgerald was grateful for the opportunity, even if it might end up costing her. “I really ran my mouth,” she says, worrying, “Is it going down South? You think they’re going to break my records up when they hear it? This is unusual for me.” Nonetheless, she says, “I’m so happy that you had me, because instead of singing, for a change I got a chance to get a few things off my chest. I just a human being.”

The clip at the top comes from a new documentary titled Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things. Watch the trailer for the film above.

via Ted Gioia

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


Did the CIA Write the Scorpions’ “Wind of Change,” One of the Bestselling Songs of All Time?

By the time the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, it seemed the fate of the Soviet Union was all but sealed. It would be two more years before the USSR officially dissolved, and flew the Soviet flag over the Kremlin for the last time, but the age of Cold War belligerence officially ended with the 1980s, so it seemed. Soft power and suasion would finish the job. And what better way to announce this transition than with the soft-rock stylings of a power ballad like the Scorpions' “Wind of Change”? The sentimental song from German metal and hard rock favorites was suddenly inescapable in 1990, and it was not at all subtle about its message.

The song became a massive hit and remains one of the best-selling singles of all time. It served as "a soundtrack of sorts to a political and cultural revolution," writes Richard Bienstock at Rolling Stone. Oddly, "especially in light of the Scorpions' background... 'Wind of Change' was about neither the Berlin Wall nor their German homeland." Instead, the song was ostensibly inspired by a historic two-day festival the band played in Moscow in 1989, a so-called "hard-rock Woodstock" featuring metal royalty like Ozzy Osbourne, Mötley Crüe, Cinderella, and Skid Row alongside hard rock Soviet bands like Gorky Park.

Three months after the concert, the Berlin Wall fell, and Scorpions' lead singer Klaus Meine wrote the words:

The world is closing in
Did you ever think
That we could be so close, like brothers
The future's in the air
I can feel it everywhere
Blowing with the wind of change

The iconic whistled intro and lighters-in-the-air video cemented “Wind of Change” as a definitive statement on how the “children of tomorrow” will “share their dreams” in a globalized world. Tantalizingly vague, the lyrics read like Surrealist ad copy, sliding back and forth between doggerel and weird Symbolist incantation:

The wind of change
Blows straight into the face of time
Like a stormwind that will ring the freedom bell
For peace of mind
Let your balalaika sing
What my guitar wants to say

These lines, it may not shock you to learn, may have been written by the CIA. At least, “that’s the mystery driving the new eight-part podcast series Wind of Change,” writes Nicholas Quah at Vulture. (Listen on Apple, Spotify, Google, and on the podcast website.) “Led by New Yorker staff writer Patrick Radden Keefe and produced by Pineapple Street’s Henry Molofsky… the journey takes us to a shape-shifting Wonderland, a world where an American agency like the CIA may very well have participated in the production of pop culture as part of concerted efforts to build sentiment against its enemies abroad. It might even be something that’s happening right now.”

Those who’ve read about how the Agency has influenced everything from Abstract Expressionism, to literary magazines, creative writing, and Hollywood films might not find these allegations particularly surprising, but as with all the best examples of the serial podcast form, it’s the journey, not the destination that makes this story worth pursuing. Keefe approaches the subject with a naiveté that might be deliberate, playing up the idea of mass entertainment as “carefully devised and calibrated messaging.”

The podcast is great fun (“it’s been described as This is Spinal Tap meets All the President’s Men,” writes Deadline); its story, Keefe says in a statement, “stretches across musical genres, and across borders and periods of history.” Do we ever find out for sure whether the agency best known for overthrowing governments it doesn’t like wrote the Scorpions’ 1990 power ballad “Wind of Change”? “Hear the music, and the accents and the voices,” says Keefe, “and judge for yourself who might be lying and who is telling the truth.”

If you ask Klaus Meine, it's all a fantasy. (But, then, he would say that, wouldn't he?) "It's weird," the Scorpions singer commented after learning about Keefe's podcast. "In my wildest dreams I can't think about how that song would connect with the CIA."  The idea, however, would make "a good idea for a movie," he says, "That would be cool." A movie, maybe, funded by the CIA.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

When Debbie Harry Combined Artistic Forces with H.R. Giger

After four years of phenomenal chart success, the band Blondie went on hiatus in 1981. While Debbie Harry pursued the acting she had started in punk rock filmmaker Amos Poe’s works, she also went the solo album route. On paper, this album, KooKoo, must have looked like a surefire hit: Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards from the band Chic were brought in to write and produce, hot on the heels of their successful resuscitation of Diana Ross’s career the year before. Harry and boyfriend/band member/guitarist Chris Stein wrote tracks as well, and fully indulged in the Black music genres they had already been toying with on Blondie’s Autoamerican, like “Rapture” and “The Tide Is High.”

But here’s where it gets a bit weird, and everything goes off kilter. The choice for the album art and promotional videos was H.R. Giger, the artist who had rattled moviegoers’ brains the previous year with his designs for Ridley Scott’s Alien.

The couple had met Giger in 1980 at a reception for his paintings at New York’s Hansen Gallery.
“There I was introduced to a very beautiful woman, Debbie Harry, the singer of the group Blondie, and her boyfriend, Chris Stein,” Giger said in an interview. “They were apparently excited about my work and asked me whether I would be prepared to design the cover of the new Debbie Harry album.”

Though he didn’t know the group--Giger preferred to listen to jazz--he agreed to the cover and to the promo videos, even directing when the original director didn’t show.

The album cover is probably better known than the music inside, and no wonder: it features Harry’s face pierced horizontally by four spikes. Her expression is ambiguous, possibly ecstatic. It was in one way a throwback to Giger’s other famous record cover, the one for Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery. But the cover also would see its influence in films like Hellraiser, the rise of what was called the “modern primitive” movement, and help cultivate the dark masochistic character Harry would play in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome. It was a feeling that would flourish in the decadent ‘80s.

Harry wrote about this in Heavy Metal magazine, which often featured the artist, saying “Giger’s work has a subconscious effect: it engenders the fear of being turned into metal.”

The cover was a taster for more menacing things, however. It’s the videos where Harry goes full Giger. First of all, the blonde hair is gone, replaced by black. And Giger puts Harry in a bodysuit, half flayed-human, half machine. The music videos are simple, performance based, though the sunny, alluring Harry has disappeared and a proto-Goth being has taken her place.

But that leaves us with the music, which one has to admit, is completely unsuited for this design. If Harry had made an album closer to Danielle Dax, for example, then we might have seen one of the oddest mid-career shifts in ‘80s music. Instead the commercial flatlining of the album threw Harry off-track, while Giger went on to be the go-to album artist for metal and punk bands, from the Dead Kennedys to Bloodbath.

via Dangerous Minds

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Hear Debbie Harry’s Stunning Ethereal Vocal Tracks from “Heart of Glass,” “Call Me,” “Rapture,” and “One Way or Another”

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

John Prine’s Last Song Was Also His First to Go No. 1: Watch Him Perform “I Remember Everything”

It feels cosmically ironic that Great American Songwriter John Prine died of COVID-19 in early April, just before the U.S. response to the virus was developing into what may well be the Greatest Political Folly most Americans have ever witnessed in their lifetimes. Mass death for profit and power, colossal stupidity and bullying ignorance—these were just the kinds of things that got Prine’s wheels turning. His thoughts became folk poetry with teeth.

Prine’s targets included the conservative demonization of single mothers in “Unwed Fathers,” who “can’t be bothered,” he sang, “They run like water, through a mountain stream.” In 1971, he told belligerent American nationalists “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You into Heaven Anymore,” in a song he’d actually written in the late 60s, calling out America’s “dirty little war.” He revisited this evergreen anti-war theme in 2005’s “Some Humans Ain’t Human,” a song that angered many fans. While Prine’s explicitly political songs are only a small part of his catalogue, his lyricism always clearly reflected his beliefs.

“Bestowing dignity on the overlooked and marginalized was a common theme throughout Prine’s career,” writes Annie Zaleski in an NPR Music tribute. “He became known for detailed vignettes about ordinary people that illustrated truths about society.” His mastery of this form made him the ultimate songwriter’s songwriter. But while he won two Grammys and several other distinguished awards, “inductions into multiple songwriter halls of fame,” notes Eli Enis at Consequence of Sound, “and gushing praise from peers like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Petty,” Prine never had a No. 1 hit, until now—in a final irony he would have appreciated—with his posthumous release, “I Remember Everything."

The song came out on June 11 and this week “debuted at the top of the Rock Digital Song Sales chart, making it the highest-charting single of the late legend’s entire career.” It showcases Prine’s ability to make the personal reflect larger social realities he may never have seen coming but somehow tuned into nonetheless. In this case, the subject is a man who knows he’s out of time and wants to savor every memory before he goes. Written with longtime collaborator Pat McLaughlin, the lyrics are gorgeously bittersweet, touching the depths of loss and reckoning with mortality.

Prine’s performance at the top was recorded last year by Grammy-winning producer Dave Cobb. “Given that Prine passed away back in April following a battle with coronavirus, the song’s life-spanning, self-reflective lyrics are achingly prescient,” writes Enis. And it’s “almost too on-the-nose that the track was presented in a home performance context, months before that setup would become normalized for a world in quarantine.” Prine always had an “uncanny ability to address (if not predict) the societal and political zeitgeist,” Zaleski wrote in April. No matter how ugly the zeitgeist was, he never let it dull his wit or cloud his eye for beauty.


I Remember Everything

I've been down this road before
I remember every tree
Every single blade of grass
Holds a special place for me
And I remember every town
And every hotel room
And every song I ever sang
On a guitar out of tune

I remember everything
Things I can't forget
The way you turned and smiled on me
On the night that we first met
And I remember every night
Your ocean eyes of blue
How I miss you in the morning light
Like roses miss the dew

I've been down this road before
Alone as I can be
Careful not to let my past
Go sneaking up on me
Got no future in my happiness
Though regrets are very few
Sometimes a little tenderness
Was the best that I could do

I remember everything
Things I can't forget
Swimming pools of butterflies
That slipped right through the net
And I remember every night
Your ocean eyes of blue
How I miss you in the morning light
Like roses miss the dew

How I miss you in the morning light
Like roses miss the dew

via Consequence of Sound

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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