Showing posts with label Elvis Presley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Elvis Presley. Show all posts

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Cash Preferred

“...Two million dollars... Last year, Johnny Cash made twice that much, singin’ about hard times.” -Bob Hope

His sound and image were inexplicable yet deceptively simple and accessible. An inimitable
brand of country music fused with blues, rock, gospel and folk invoked the raw character of working rural Americans shaped by the land, broken dreams and death itself. Perhaps it’s precisely what is missing from popular music today. Ironically, Cash’s voice and music resonate with contemporary young music fans much as they did during the latter part of the 20th Century.

Born J.R. Cash on February 26, 1932 in Kingsland, Arkansas, “John” Cash began using the name “Johnny” only after beginning a music career in Memphis, Tennessee as a recording artist for Sam Phillips’ Sun label in 1954. Just when Elvis Presley was beginning his music career there, Cash began working with a backing group called the Tennessee Two, playing gospel and later transitioning to the trendy new ‘rockabilly’ sound, a blend of “hillbilly” rock and roll that incorporated rhythm and blues. 

Cash’s Sun hits included the classics “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk the Line.” They featured a distinctive rhythm and beat accented by Cash’s unmistakable deep baritone. His lyrical themes were universal in nature and ranged from heartbreak and loneliness to crime, tragedy, punishment, salvation and the American spirit. If that weren’t enough, the man could also write and sing some pretty funny stuff to boot.

After leaving Phillips for Columbia Records, Cash toured extensively and honed a trademark image that saw him dressed in all-black attire. Some of his greatest-selling recordings were albums produced from free concerts given for felons within the walls of various prisons. Cash saw these inmates, like the American Indians, as examples of the forgotten and underrepresented. 

During this period Cash also began touring with June Carter of the famed Carter Family country act. The two would eventually be married in 1968.

With and without June, he scored more chart successes but concurrently developed severe issues with drugs and alcohol.

By 1969, Cash was hosting The Johnny Cash Show on ABC, videotaped at Nashville’s hallowed Ryman Auditorium. The popular music program was an influential one, showcasing not only himself but also introducing many new recording artists of the era to Cash’s audience.

Despite a troubled personal life that saw frequent addiction, abuse and run-ins with the law, Cash continually found renewal and redemption in the Almighty. He regularly performed at Billy Graham’s ‘Crusades’ and wrote a Christian novel and a screenplay which he produced on the life of Jesus in addition to his two autobiographies written in 1975 and 1997.

Though several illnesses eventually slowed down Cash’s life and career, his stardom would have a final resurgence with a back-to-basics album series known as the American Recordings which featured stark cover versions of eclectic songs by some unlikely contemporary artists.

Sadly, Johnny Cash passed away on September 12, 2003, four months after June’s passing. His musical legacy is difficult to explicate yet easily noticeable in the multitudes of musicians he played with and influenced.

Cash’s songs and the values he strove to embody would seem practically essential in our current world ripe with confusion, crisis, doubt and disillusion. Indeed, there is something unequivocally missing from the time in which we live because — up front, there ought to be a man in black.

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Christopher Robinson

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Leaving the Building

Americans are beginning to see some of the effects that state lockdowns have had on local businesses. In many cases they either couldn’t adapt to the crisis for one reason or another or they lost too much time and revenue to pay their rent, utilities, workers etc.

One of my favorite local diners looks to have been resolutely affected by this crisis and will probably not reopen as the business that it had been for thirty years or so. It’s one more sad and disappointing reminder of how the country has been economically devastated in a variety of ways.

I can’t say that I have too many memories of the place but- wait! An odd reminiscence now comes to mind.

A local detective once told me that she had recently responded to a police call at the diner because one of the customers thought they saw Elvis Presley there(!) I found this to be slightly perplexing since Elvis sightings would seem to be low in critical nature within my limited understanding of police prioritization.

In any case, I don’t think the person in question turned out to be Elvis, nor did I believe it could even be possible.

The site of the alleged incident boasted a decent salad bar and reasonably-priced lunch and dinner specials but no all-you-can-eat deep-fried starch-fest that one would logically expect to be fit for the King. Besides, if it was him, what exactly were they prepared to do?

This, of course, is all in accordance with a notorious long-standing supposition that the 42 year-old star never passed away 43 years ago(last week)on August 16th, 1977. But- were it true anyway, could an out-of-state police charge someone with a felony for faking their own death in another place, twenty-five years earlier?

  • Do logic and reason become blurred when something fantastic is at stake?
  • Do rules often leave you confused?
  • How do you determine which to follow... and which to flout?
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    Christopher Robinson

    Saturday, June 6, 2020

    Rodney Commands Respect

    Occasionally, my publisher Al Colombo and I engage in brief conversations on the greatness of our favorite comedian, the incomparable Rodney Dangerfield. He came to prominence late in life and eventually enjoyed a long and lucrative career in the extremely competitive world of comedy.

    An unmistakable persona, usually decked out in a black suit and red tie, bug-eyed and innocuously tugging at his collar and wiping sweat from his face with his handkerchief, Rodney is still remembered today by most over the age of 30 and his universally endearing “no respect” trademark led Johnny Carson to once declare him the greatest stand-up comic of all.

    Born Jacob Cohen, the Long Island native began as a struggling stand-up performer with the stage name Jack Roy. After failing to find his niche, he notoriously left show business to sell aluminum siding. When he decided to take a second shot at stand-up, the rechristened Rodney Dangerfield worked his way through venues such as those in the famed Catskills.

    Eventually earning headliner status, he developed a memorable act based around an endless string of catchy one-liners that defined his self-deprecating image as the ultimate loser who won’t ever get a break (“My father carries around the picture of the kid who came with his wallet.”) By 1969, he had opened Dangerfield’s, a first-class comedy club in Manhattan that still features top-rate comedy talent to this day.

    In the 1980s, Rodney became an iconic household name thanks to a series of best-selling records and a starring role in the hit comedy film Caddyshack as the brash, no-class cut-up Al Czervik who traveled with an Asian chauffeur named Wang who found everything to be photogenic. “Hey Wang, what’s with the pictures? It’s a parking lot!”

    More movies and TV specials followed as well as a series of appearances in an all-star TV ad campaign for Miller Lite beer (he was even bestowed with the honor of having his own board game).

    Milton Bradley's Rodney board game

    Rodney died in 2004 at the age of 82. His grave marker in Los Angeles infamously reads- ‘Rodney Dangerfield, There goes the neighborhood.’ An obvious reference to his hard luck image, it carried a negative connotation and wasn’t something I ever felt was entirely appropriate. For me, It served the excessive side of his myth, much like some of his HBO specials where he often seemed to be attempting to outdo his younger protégés with uncharacteristic gags that were increasingly vulgar and abusively mean-spirited.

    The ironic fact of the matter is that Rodney’s true reputation, much like his real-life personality, is in direct contrast to his celebrated characters that he honed so meticulously. He was and continues to be highly ‘respected’, particularly by the young comics he mentored and inspired.

    Today’s contemporary comedy scene lacks the common range that legends like Rodney worked in. Most new comics seek to craft material relatable to like-minded pockets or groups with whom they can establish themselves as spokesmen or figureheads of irreverence. The days of instantly recognizable comedians with easily identifiable gimmicks cracking jokes that everyone gets, regardless of age, race, occupation or social class seem to be relegated to showbiz past.

    Rodney was always destined for stardom because he possessed the key to laughter with a style that was empathetic, whoever you happened to be.

    Do you ever feel like you don’t get any respect? What about groups, communities and countries? Can they feel that way, collectively? Does America feel the way Rodney did? If so, can humor save it? Maybe Rodney had the answer. Many of us are undoubtedly invoking him without ever knowing it. How often do we seem to look around and say to ourselves in exasperation, “I tell ya, I can’t take it no more.”?