Thursday, August 28, 2008

Short and very sweet.

There is only one Stevie Wonder. My God. He's performing at the Obama-fest as I write this. You probably won't/can't see it unless you're watching the full coverage of the event on PBS or CSPAN, but take it from me, if you don't already know: The man's musical talents defy describing.


Anonymous said...

What was Stevie's last charting single? Was it "Ebony and Ivory" with McCartney? Rarely he pops up in a collaborative effort, (or maybe a special Oprah show) - but the guy has been off radio pretty much for 20 years or more (much to our loss).

Dimension Skipper said...

WARNING: I really didn’t mean to go on so when I started composing this comment, but “it changed, it grew” (a Steely Dan quote there) and got quickly beyond my control. Sorry. I figured as long as we were on the subject of past era big time artists still putting out good stuff, but getting largely ignored by the great unwashed masses…

I know what you're saying anonymous. I don't have any Stevie W. in my collection and at times I've pondered rectifying that, but as yet have never gotten around to doing so (no excuses). And that's MY loss, as you say. (I love “Ribbon,” though, so thanks for posting that one, Steve!)

However, I just wanted to chime in that (and perhaps it's just my burgeoning curmudgeon-hood making its grip on my personality ever tighter as I age, but imo...) "being on the charts" is nowhere near the indicator of musical quality it once was back in the day (though of course there are always gonna be embarrassing examples of “What were we thinking?” back then!). If anything, these days being on the charts could even be a vice versa sign in re to quality (though others are free to dispute that point, of course).

I happen to be a big Steely Dan fan over (uh, Reelin' In?) the years. They put out their last significant popular success Gaucho in 1980 and then nothing but a few solo projects in the two decades that followed. Donald Fagen's Nightfly spawned a couple radio hits circa 1982 and had modest commercial success, but 93's Kamakiriad (as far as I know) did nothing to qualify for any measured chart success.

Likewise, Walter Becker's 11 Tracks of Whack failed to stir the checkbooks of the masses or excite radio listeners (indeed, I don't know that anything from it got airplay at all). Admittedly, it seems his voice is something of an acquired taste and that album was in many ways an uneven effort in terms of musical styles, especially as contrasted with "Steely Dan.” Also, Becker being the non-vocalist of The Dan, his valuable contributions to the duo often go unrecognized by the larger, more casual music audience. (His main shortcoming may just be that he doesn’t sound like Fagen vocally, but who does?)

More recent history has seen SD put out two albums (00’s Two Against Nature and 03’s Everything Must Go in this new (can we still say “new”?) millennium.. Plus, Fagen’s most recent solo effort was 06’s Morph The Cat. And now Becker this summer has finally released a brand spankin’ new solo CD entitled Circus Money (often typoed as Circus MonKey btw). I especially and highly recommend folks try out that one as they may be pleasantly surprised. You can hear sample clips at verious obvious sites on the web, inluding Mr. Becker’s own site. You can even freely hear the full track “Somebody’s Saturday Night” in a player included as part of this May interviewof Becker by Austin Scaggs.

All of those newer efforts are excellent (imo of course) and yet have garnered virtually no chart success to speak of (if indeed any at all). Although there may have been a minor chart blip back in 2000 when Two Against Nature won some Grammies and ticked off a bunch of Eminem fans. Many folks consider those Grammies to be retroactive “makeup” awards, but I don’t (obviously I’m somewhat biased, though).

A note for obscure trivia buffs… I take my own online handle, “Dimension Skipper,” sort of from a line in “Slang of Ages,” Becker’s one and only outing as lead vocalist on an official SD track (on Everything Must Go) where he sings… “Damn, she skipped dimensions!” (Though I happen to be male, btw.)

Finally getting back to Stevie W., I know that when his most recent CD was released, many folks on the SD fan boards (and there is much significant shared appreciation of the two) hailed it as very, very good, his best work in years... if that means anything.

DISCLAIMER: I have no stake whatsoever in SD’s music, as a duo or as separate solo artists, beyond the mere fact that I have enjoy it all so over the years, still do, and wish others could appreciate it and share the joy on some level close to what I do, especially the newer stuff which usually just gets hastily dismissed and ignored—and I don’t understand why.

Steve, When I first came across your blog here I pointed it out to one or two others in the SD virtual community and only then was it pointed out to me via your online bios and general info that your own musical accomplishments are not too shabby and you have even shared some playing time with several significant SD alums. I was impressed. Not that you need to worry about impressing ME… I’m just sayin’. It even makes up for that pic of you wearing a Yankees cap. (LOL!)

(I hate when my occasional comments are so much longer than the original post!)

Cosmic Connie said...

I really like Stevie Wonder too and agree that he is one of our national treasures. But I watched him (on PBS) last night and I have to say that in my opinion, the first number he did, which just seemed to drag on and on, was not his finest hour vocally. I thought maybe it was due to possible acoustic challenges of singing live at Mile High Stadium. But on the second number, his classic "Signed Sealed Delivered (I'm Yours)" he sounded a lot better.

For the benefit of those who didn't see the performance, here it is on YouTube:

Dimension Skipper said...

Oops. I meant to add (Now, now, quit your groaning out there!) that the very first day I found this blog the jazz corner clip was a version of Horace Silver's "Song For My Father." As all hardcore Dan fans know, Fagen and Becker are long time jazz enthusiasts and that there's a very significant nod (though inadvertent if Fagen's to be believed) to SFMF in the classic SD hit "Rikki Don't Lose That Number."

I tell you I am constantly amazed at how it seems to work out so often that I stumble across a site of interest and then in short order find significant other connections to my own likes/dislikes, obsessions, what have you... It's downright uncanny. Nope, cannot be canned at all! :-)

Steve Salerno said...

Connie: Sigh. Yes, much as it pains me to say so, I thought Stevie's voice was a bit off. However, my admiration for him stands. He (generally) writes his own stuff, his harmonic back-up (which he often arranges) is impeccable, and he has "that certain thing" that all good musical artists have that enables him to know exactly what tempo a song should be sung at, when the phrasing should be short/long, etc. And hey, even the greatest hitter faces a day of reckoning when he can't quite get around on the fastball anymore. So maybe Stevie's reaching that stage. The last few times I heard Sinatra--my unabashed nomination for the greatest vocalist ever--well, let's just say it was pretty sad.

Dimension, much as I'd love to keep the pleasant illusions going, it also pains me to admit that no, I am not "that" Steve Salerno. (I assume you're referring to the guitarist, who has quite a cult-type following in jazz circles.) I am often confused with him, as well as with the artist/illustrator; in fact, the New York Times once hired "the other" Steve Salerno to illustrate a piece that I'd written. I believe that was the time that we got each other's checks!

My official playing days ended back in Noo Yawk in the early 70s. I was a horn man (tenor, alto), and like most such players of the era, a would-be Coltrane clone. Fagen/Becker are amazing virtuoso artists, collectively and separately. Though I'm forever accumulating new tracks to play, Kamakiriad always seems to make it back into my CD player before long. ("Caught my father...mowin' the lawn...come on, Daddy, get in, let's go..." I actually take my hands off the wheel and clap in my car. Which, I grant you, is worse than talking on a cell phone while driving.) And then there's Century's End, the song written for the film with Michael J. Fox, as I recall.

I could go on and on, but I'm preaching to the choir, and it's a busy week....

Dimension Skipper said...

Well... I regret and apologize for the ID mix-up. I'm sure you're probably quite used to it by now, but I still feel I should have checked into it more closely. Normally I would have, but no excuses, the fault is mine. (Funny though about the third Mr. Salerno being hired to illustrate your work once. I can see where that could get confusing!)

I must admit (and it's probably obvious) that when it comes to straight jazz, classic or contemporary, I myself am not well-versed (nor am I musical in any way beyond simply knowing what I like to listen to). So when I shared the link to your blog elsewhere with fellow SD fans (because the non-musical content here about mainstream media fit right in with some non-musical content there at the time) and someone responded with a link to "your" bio, I took it at face value. I'd already seen the one at journalismpro and due to some minor similarities, I thought had good reason to believe they were both "you." An honest case of mistaken identity, especially since the "other" jazzy Mr. Salerno's site doesn't seem to be big on providing pictures.

But still, I stand by what I said about SD and also how often it seems to be the case that such underlying shared interests are often discovered only subsequent to first finding what would on the surface seem like a completely unrelated shared interest or topic. Call it synchronicity or whatever, but it's just a random observation.

And regardless of the mixup I'm still quite impressed and entertained by your blogging ways here and the manner with which you thoughtfully delve into topics typically reserved for simple hit-and-run rhetoric and barbs. In short, I'll continue to lurk around and read daily, coment if I feel I have something possibly worth adding to the mix. I came here for the content, not the musical atmosphere (which is just a nice bonus). It's always nice, though, to find (outside of the usual fan channels) someone else who appreciates SD/Fagen/Becker...

And again, I apologize for the misunderstanding, but thanks for understanding and setting me straight. Good day...

Steve Salerno said...

Dimension: Seriously, dude, it's OK. Me? I'm just glad you're here.