May 22, 2013 | by Adam Plunkett
Ever since I made the mistake of moving away from New York a couple of summers ago, I haven’t been able to spend more than a day or maybe two in the city or in Brooklyn without thinking of the dancing in “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.” Of course there isn’t any actual dancing in “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”—it’s a plan they abandon, the diamond-soled girl and the poor boy—but who would come back to the city a little bit older and sadder and think of the long nights on rooftops and not of the way that time collapses when you’re young in New York and in love? She said, “Honey, take me dancing,” and they ended up sleeping in the doorway. Time passes in that line from the start of the night to its aftermath, and the night itself is lost to memory in the way that everyday whimsy and arguments are, especially with wine, especially with pulls as relentless as those of the city’s excitement and of the comforts of new love and home. The doorway is a compromise between the worlds that put them off-balance—the world inside the doorway, and Broadway. She said, “Honey, take me dancing,” and they ended up sleeping in the doorway / By the bodegas and the lights of Upper Broadway.
Wealth: you couldn’t have a story like this of Upper Broadway and not describe the shames and trappings of wealth, the extravagant ludicrousness of having diamonds on the bottoms of your shoes, the thin pretense of trying to hide anything. She’s like a fable, the rich girl. You can hear her playing and taunting, fun and vain, eager to please and anxious to be reassured of what she knows is hardly true.
She said, “You’ve taken me for granted
Because I please you
Wearing these diamonds.”
If she pleases him, it’s not with the diamonds that he has to compensate for, and because she knows this but wishes that she didn’t, she says please in two syllables and diamonds in seven, as if to say how silly—how crazy—it would be to want her wealth, as at least part of him does.
He gets there in the end, wearing diamonds, but not without denial, resentment, and envy. It’s this self-consciousness, if not self-awareness, that rounds the song out into drama. She makes the sign of a teaspoon / He makes the sign of a wave. She plays at doing something, and he, drawn inward, just plays at reaching out to her, but his self-consciousness makes it just the sign of a wave, shy of what he feels is real communication. (Maybe his version of play is a pun like “sine wave,” which, being a pun, feels too embarrassing to say.)
She makes the sign of a teaspoon
He makes the sign of a wave
The poor boy changes clothes
and puts on aftershave
To compensate for his ordinary shoes.
The rhyme with aftershave feels right, but it’s hard to say why. Our ineffable certainty is like that of the poor boy reacting to his anxiety by fixing himself up—likely because it feels right and not because he thinks the uncomfortable thought that he has to compensate. It’s the narrator who thinks that. His interpolation helps to set the characters off-balance with themselves and each other, excited and anxious, ready for the dancing that never happens.
After the twenty-fifth-anniversary celebration of Graceland last year, I worried that the album was dead. Read More »
May 9, 2013 | by Matt Domino
You may never have heard of the Small Faces—and that’s perfectly acceptable. There’s a terrible, thirty-minute documentary about the band that you can watch on YouTube, but I don’t recommend it. However, any music fan will tell you that they were one of the greatest and most underrated bands in the history of rock and roll. At their loudest, the Small Faces could rumble and crash even better than the Who. At their slyest, they could preen and knowingly wink with the best of the Rolling Stones. And underneath it all was an intelligence and creative streak that was downright Beatles-esque.
Plus, they had Steve Marriott’s lead vocals, which in the late sixties (before they were later wasted in Humble Pie) were perhaps the best and most evocative instrument in rock and roll this side of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar. Needless to say, this all added up to quite a formidable group, one that was capable of making unique and memorable music, which is exactly what the Small Faces did in the spring of 1968 when they released their psychedelic masterpiece, Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake. Read More »
March 14, 2013 | by Matt Domino
No one under the age of fifty really listens to Frank Sinatra anymore. Like anything else, there may be exceptions to this fact, but overall it’s true. Frank Sinatra is a legendary artist whose work will always be enjoyed and referred to. However, his era of direct relevancy is obviously long gone, and his era of anecdotal relevancy is starting to fade.
We associate Frank Sinatra with a bygone era of America, a time of guys and dolls, a time when people would swing and dance and when the lounge singer was king. Sinatra’s unique talent was maintaining this vision even as it eroded away over time—to make you feel old-fashioned feelings in a modern era. Sinatra’s heyday was from the late forties to the late fifties, yet he recorded “New York, New York” in 1977. And “My Way” makes you feel like a proud man looking over the skyline of post–World War II Manhattan, even in 2013.
Still, Sinatra’s most overlooked achievement is perhaps the one album he made that did not feel as though it was evoking the era he loved or knew the most. In 1969, the same year that Frank Sinatra recorded “My Way,” he released an album called Watertown. Chances are, even some of the biggest Sinatra fans—like my grandparents and great aunts and uncles—have forgotten about Watertown. But Watertown is Frank Sinatra’s best album and his most enduring contribution to American culture. Read More »
December 27, 2012 | by Brian Cullman
We’re out this week, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2012 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!
Just past Tandy Crafts, a dark, unlovely store on the corner of Thirteenth and Sixth Ave, there was a door that led to the shop’s basement and storage area. Down there, tucked between the boiler room and the janitor’s closet, you could find the editorial offices of Crawdaddy.
I was there because Rolling Stone was in California, because Hit Parader was no longer interesting, and because Downbeat was incomprehensible. Crawdaddy was the only other music magazine I’d heard of, and it had the advantage of being in New York. It also had the advantage of not having a listed phone number, so I couldn’t be turned away unseen. In my pocket I had two stories I’d written for my school paper. One was a review of John Fahey’s Days Have Gone By, the other was an appreciation of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Neither was more than a few hundred words, and I’d probably spent more time tracking down the address of Crawdaddy than I had in writing them. But there I was. It was the middle of April, in 1970, and all was right with the world.
December 17, 2012 | by Brian Cullman
I saw Ravi Shankar at Carnegie Hall in 1966 or 1967. Because of the Beatles, of course. And I learned so much about music from that one concert. Not that the lesson stayed with me; it wasn’t like that. But it set me up for hearing music in a different way than I was used to (that is, as pop songs on the radio, as 45s on my record player, as the songs we sang at camp about the cat coming back or your heart going where the wild goose goes, or, worse, much worse, as the moth-eaten songs from musicals on Broadway).
The first half of the concert was endless and dull, nothing but a couple of notes played over and over, like a foreign cuckoo clock gone mad. And then, an hour in, it all changed. And time stopped. The notes began to form a pattern, and the pattern grew more and more beautiful, like a house materializing from thin air, rising out of nothing into the most glorious vista, a home and a garden and hope and love and time, spread out before me. Read More »
December 13, 2012 | by Matthew Kassel
Over the past month or so, I have listened to John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, one of the greatest jazz vocal albums ever made, about once a day. I haven’t tired of it, which is a testament to its durability. But I think there’s more to it than that. I discovered John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman about four years ago, and it continues to enchant me. The album—composed of six slow yet easily digestible romantic ballads—may contain the most beautiful half hour of music I have heard on one CD.
I’m not trying to idealize the record. But I’m not alone in feeling so strongly. Writing in Esquire magazine in 1990, Daniel Okrent named John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman the greatest record ever made. Okrent admitted such a claim “is a fragile limb on which to walk.” But he stood firm. “If you want to argue,” Okrent wrote, “forget it; having listened to John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman for some fifteen years, I simply can’t be moved.”