Friday, February 24, 2012

SOTW - February 24, 2012

As I sat yesterday enjoying the buena vista on the shores of Lake Buena Vista, I became sentimental. (One is prone to nostalgia when experiencing the "magic" of the Magic Kingdom for the first time in nearly three decades). A thought occurred. Music always sounded a little better when blasting three inches from my ear out of the C pillar speakers in the back of Brian Pheil's '91 candy sucker blue Camaro (6 cyl, Ttops, A/C, auto, clean!); 60 mph with the windows down. In the ignorant bliss of youth, freedom gave music the type of sheen that only a $5,000 custom sound system could put on it today. Life itself was so high fidelity then it didn't matter if the soundtrack was played through an overloaded $10 Taiwanese crap speaker with one of those pointless cardboard cones around the tweeter. 7 o'clock on Friday night. Summer's over. Home football game. New pair of Nike airs. 11:00 pm curfew (one hour weekend extension). "I hope you brought your wood screws, cuz' I'm about to blow your doors completely off!"

Music was best then in short, intense doses. How many 10 minute guitar solos do you hear on an Alice in Chains record? There just wasn't enough time for the anything long; even "November Rain" tested the patience. (Were all those horns at the end really necessary?) The optimum song was long enough to take you out of the parking lot behind "E wing" during a skipped lunch hour and down Pecan Street (at 55 mph), through the hard right onto 16th Avenue, directly into the parking lot of the former DQ. There was never a better example than your Early Evening Song of the Week for February 24, 2012. The feedback statco whammy bar fuzz at the beginning was my first taste of psychedelia. About the time I got my head wrapped around it, Bam! Hard gut shot of Canadian-American electric jive: "I like to dream yes, yes ..." Who needs the trippy stuff when you're skipping lunch? 

There's a bit of very little-known history behind this song that need not be lost. For about 11 minutes, this was going to be the official graduation song of the Crisp County High School class of 1994. Before the class meeting where such matters were taken up, a series of smoky bathroom meetings and "coach, I don't feel so good today" locker room pow-wows resulted in a loose coalition behind this scrappy insurgent candidate. (Or maybe it was just a few outspoken class members who successfully hijacked the meeting from Zackary Wade's less than authoritative hand on the President's gavel). Once the ballots had been cast and counted, your SOTW held a narrow margin over the "Establishment candidate," Mariah Carey's "Hero." Victory! The supporters could just see themselves grooving out of the stadium in their mortarboards as a bona fide hippie anthem filled the Cougar Den! Democracy in action. Majority rules! Then, Principal Brinson caught wind of the disaster that was unfolding in the lunchroom and inserted himself quickly (with walkie talkie in hand). Realizing that such foolishness at what was supposed to be a solemn and inspring event could imperil his seat at the head of the Politburo, he did what any smart dictator would do; he changed the rules midstream and quashed the insurgency. The initial ballots were swept away in a cloud of controversy amongst some muttering about absentee and ISS students not having their chance to vote. "Folks, we forgot to mention this in advance, but this is going to be a two round balloting, and the second round wins." The dream born in molded plastic chairs under flourescent lights was thus shattered. The "re-vote" was a forgone conclusion. Mariah Carey it was.

Though it narrowly missed its place on the ultimate throne of history, your SOTW lives on. While Prinicpal Brinson got the best of me in the Great Senior Song Vote of '91, I snaked through the lunch hour DMZ that surrounded that place my fair share of times. More often than not, Pheil would be the driver in that old blue Camaro. Once we cleared the gravel lot good, we'd roll down the windows and fire up a Camel Special Light. He'd open the old cracked vinyl center console lid and fish out his casette copy of 16 Greatest Hits. (A couple of taps on the knee and a good strong blow would usually suffice to get the McDonald's french fry salt out of it.) The rewind button was long gone, so a Bic pen jammed into the dashboard had to suffice. Song 1, side 2. Turn it up to where he could hear the tape hiss good. Yes! A single hour of freedom never felt so good ....

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Skydog's Lost Shoes

Howard Duane Allman was supernatural. The man known as "Skydog" found new galaxies with his guitar. To Hear him is to believe it. His story is one of the great tragedies of Rock history. Unlike the tales of self-destruction that litter the genre (Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, Kurt Cobain), Skydog met his end by pure accident when his Harley Sportster collided with a lumber truck on October 29, 1971 near the intersection of Hillcrest and Bartlett Avenues in Macon. (No, he wasn't hit by a peach truck.) He was just a few weeks shy of his 25th birthday. It's one of those things I've never quite been able to get over despite the fact that I was -4 years old when it happened. He's buried amongst some hardwoods at the bottom of natural amphitheater near the Ocmulgee River in the Rose Hill Cemetery. If you stand there with your eyes closed on a quiet Sunday, you can almost hear the serpentine electric hiss of a '70 era "'Liz Reed" solo blend in with the breeze blowing through the trees.

Duane left behind an infant daughter, named Galadrielle. (Never seen Duane with a baby rattle, check out the photos here.) Galadrielle never knew her father. Living the life of a Rock gypsy, he apparently accumulated very few worldly possessions. (Why would he have needed anything beyond the clothes on his back, a Les Paul, Coricidin bottle, and an amplifier?) Among the things he had when he passed were the (badass) navy suede leather with orange overlay shoes he's seen wearing on the cover of the 1972 posthumous collection of his work, An Anthology.

Here's the best I could do in the way of a close-up.

Duane and his girlfriend Dixie maintained an apartment is Atlanta on 10th Street. The Shoes were there when he died. Finding opportunity in another man's tragedy, when he heard the bad news, some n'er-do-well cleaned out the apartment, including the shoes. During the ensuing 40 years, for all the world knew, the Shoes were lost to history.

Good deeds tend to find the right time and place. Not long ago, a "gentleman" whose name I do not know (if it's the same SOB who availed himself of the Shoes after Duane died, I hope he enjoys reading this) contacted EJ Devokaitis, the curator of the "Big House Museum" in Macon (an ABB museum that resides in a house where the band lived and jammed during their improbable Phil Walden arranged Macon residency). Resisting the urge to do right even 40 years later, the "gentleman" told EJ that he had the Shoes and that, if the museum didn't want them, he was going to sell them on Ebay. EJ wanted them, but not for himself. He negotiated the price this "gentleman" was asking for the Shoes down to $3,000 and bought them out of his personal savings. Knowing that Galadrielle had not known her father and had only a single item that had belonged to him (more on that later), EJ gave the Shoes to Galadrielle. Thus, these remarkable artifacts of Rock history found their way, , against all odds, to the only rightful owner on this earth. Here they are today.

You won't find a man on this earth who knows more about the Allman Brothers Band (or divorce law), or shares that knowledge more generously, than my friend John Lyndon. John's brother, Twiggs, was the road manager for the band from it's earliest days. (Twiggs's story is an amazing one in its own right. While John tells it best, you can check it out here.) For any ABB fan, if you ever get the opportunity to spend 30 minutes with John, don't miss it. I promise you'll be amazed.

At some point, Gregg Allman gave Twiggs one of Skydog's sunburst Les Pauls. Being the deeply generous and decent man that he is, John made sure that Galadrielle ended up with that guitar. According to John, it is the first thing she had ever owned that belonged to her father.

Every year, John uses his connections to arrange for a huge block of open invite tickets to one night of the ABB's annual run at the Beacon Theater in New York. Not having been, I've always thought of this as a bucket list item for any homegrown Southeastern music lover. John was kind enough to join me for lunch recently. Over a "Power Lunch" at the National, he wowed me with unknown chapters of the ABB legend, including the Shoes. (It would be fun to listen to John tell stories even if I cared nothing about the subject matter, which was the furthest thing from the case here). He was obviously bothered at the idea of EJ coming out of pocket to put the Shoes in the hands of their rightful owner. Being the head of devoted horde of ABB nuts, he was in a position to do something about it. Before I left that lunch, I was determined to do two things. Play my part in getting the Shoes to Galadrielle, and go to the Beacon.

I'm proud to report that I've accomplished both. Cress and I are booked to be at the Beacon in March for our own "Evening with the Allman Brothers Band." Using a small surcharge on the dozens of Beacon tickets he purchased this year, John has reimbursed EJ for the Shoes. He continues to collect donations, and the surplus will go the the Big House Museum. Galadrielle will get a card from our group to express our happiness that the Shoes are with their rightful owner. Nearly forgotten, a brief tale in the history of Rock has thus found its happy ending.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

SOTW - February 10, 2012

So, I was in Atlanta on Monday for a late-starting expert deposition. That being a work function, I was in my standard squareish navy lawyer suit with only slightly stylish (two years ago) un-risky tie. I had my faithful sidekick and resident legal eagle, Dustin Marlowe, with me. The proceedings drug on for several hours, putting us out after 8:00 pm. That's past normal dinnertime and I was famished. A slighly-panicked search for a restaurant ensued, which ended at the Tuk Tuk Thai Food Loft at the corner of Peachtree and Deering (a very cool space with delicious alternative takes on Thai classics). There were perhaps 12 diners in the large restaurant, including us. I was too hungry to take in much of the scene. One Red Hare Ale and a plate of what I would call "pad Thai" later, things were going much better. Whew.

About the time I was wiping the last of the chili powder induced persperation off my brow, Dustin says, "dude, that's Andre 3000." [Cue hushed but wide-eyed tones].

"No waaaaay."
"Duuuude! Just look!"

As my head pivoted left and I got my eyes on him, I heard his voice as he cut up with a staff member. That removed all doubt. "Dude, that is Andre 3000." "I'm sorry Ms. Jackson!" Though he is not tall of stature, Andre Benjamin's visual impact from 12 feet away is immediate. Dude is stylish. You'd know he was a famous if nobody told you. He was wearing the kind of outfit one would throw on when he got off work early unexpectedly with nothing to do on a cold afternoon, except this outfit looked to have been custom tailored in Milan. Super fine overwashed denim was prevalent, including hyper-tailored pants and cargoish vest worn over an orange and maroon striped rugby shirt that I thought had gone out of style in the late 80's. (Obviously not. If Andre wears something, it's gotta be stylish.). The too-stylish-for-a-normal-human-on-a-Monday ensemble was topped off by one of his sigature, slighly over-large "gatsby" style hats. Apparently a regular at Tuk Tuk, he was engaging to the staff and seemed approachable ... just not approachable enough for some random 36 year old suit to walk up reeking of Thai pork (Andre is a vegan) and request a picture that would be on Facebook 90 seconds later. He got on the elevator and left. We got on our cell phones and started calling people.

Andre 3000 is, of course, one-half of the hip-hop duo Outkast. Rising out of humble beginnings in the East Point section of Atlanta, he and his partner, Antwan "Big Boi" Patton have ridden their "Dirty South G Funk" to 25 million album sales worldwide and six Grammy awards. In the process, they put "the ATL" on the map as a hub for the most dynamic and enduring musical movement of the last 20 years. I am by no means a scholar of hip-hop or Oukast, but I've tried to learn enough to appreciate the genre and its vast influence on what we hear today. (Totally unrelated sidenote. If you do not have a copy of Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, check it out. It's spectactular.) It takes less than a song to develop an appreciation for Outkast once you hear it. The content and delivery of their music is as original as it is intellectual. Your Early Evening Song of the Week for the week of February 11, 2012 tells it best. Enjoy!

Friday, February 3, 2012

SOTW - February 2, 2012

I oppose the idea of a Walmart in downtown Athens. The reason why is simple: Walmart destroys small and locally owned businesses and replaces them with Big Box retail that has changed the aesthetic of America for the worse. I grew up in a small town. I watched one small business after another wither and die into the Walmart black hole. Civic leader after civic leader (my father included) fought in vain to reverse this tide and revitalize the downtown. To no avail. It's not because people stopped buying things. They just started buying them in the giant cinder block and aluminum cube out by the interstate instead of the plate glass, brick and mortar storefronts that had been the heart of commerce in the town for generations.

It's not enough to say, "but Walmart will create jobs and we need jobs!" Really? Do you have data to back that claim up, because that's not what this community experienced. I have no doubt the same story has played out in hundreds of other towns across this country. Sure, Walmart hires people, but how many jobs does their presence destroy? You can't discuss one without considering the other. More to the point, what kind of jobs are we talking about here? My firm has a growing employment law practice. Dozens of Walmart employees call my office each year, and we see their problems first hand. Not surprisingly, we just don't hear as much from the Marriott, FedEx, and Publix employees. Folks, not all jobs are created equal.

I run a small business. I vehemently support free markets and an economically growing and vibrant Athens. We need more jobs and economic growth, just not at the cost of the soul of our downtown. There is more to building and maintaining a great city than making every decision based on economic productivity. If that was the only concern of smart city planners, Central Park in New York would be a giant field of skyscrapers. The Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago would be a Barnes & Noble with attached Starbucks. The ancient oaks that I was married amongst in the City Park in New Orleans would have been burned as firewood long ago and shotgun houses build in their place. Piedmont Park in Atlanta would be Ansley Mall, Phase II. Wouldn't the North Oconee Greenway be more economically productive if there were a couple of warehouses and a cattle processing facility there instead? Wouldn't that create some jobs and increase the tax base? Any takers?  

Your Early Evening Song of the Week for February 3, 2012 is an admirable effort by some of Athens' finest musicians to give voice to these concerns. I hope that our political leaders are listening, and that they will do what they lawfully and rightfully can to make our growth smarter.