Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

December 24, 2006

J. Geils Band’s ‘Floyd’s Hotel’: A place to get our poetic souls back

 
 

 
 
For Christmas, I got myself The Morning After, the 1971 album by my favorite band to see in concert in my teens, the J. Geils Band. In those 70s, some of us from Massachusetts had good friends from Manchester, NH. And I remember one time being in a car heading home from Montreal, with a mix of us as we all got into singing and swaying to the song “Floyd’s Hotel,” a song written about a New Hampshire hotel, done by the Massachusetts-based band. I have many J. Geils albums, the early albums, and the concert ones mainly, in a box down in my basement–but never got this one, and always should have.

Another thought, in watching the video below, it occurs to me that the latest American Idol, Taylor Hicks, has a similar energy to Peter Wolf. This makes me wonder if there is an influence there. I have no inclination to go see Hicks in concert or buy his albums. The reason might be that he comes across too pop. R&B and Rock ‘n Roll, versus pop, are rooted in the realities and hard core emotions of life, which include such a hotel as Floyd’s and the encounters there. The song enters that world, becomes an anthem for it, and speaks from it. It may turn out to be too “bold” a move for someone like Hicks to do, even if he wanted to. Maybe Hicks has sold his R&B soul to the American Idol devil.

Now, we come back full circle to J. Geils, and whether the band sold their souls in their later albums. The song “Centerfold”, a song I would not buy, does not address human sexuality the same way as “Floyd’s Hotel.” How do you get from “South Side Shuffle” to “Freeze Frame”? One answer might be through the Love Stinks album. Other answers, though, might be through the easy life or the desire for the popularity of pop. Do we need to forgive the band for selling out before they broke up? And, if so, do we forgive Geils and Hicks alike?

The difference between the tightrope Taylor Hicks is walking, and the J. Geils Band’s historic journey, is in what Geils demonstrated: that it could be done. J. Geils Band represented the artistry, or should I say the poetry of all R&B artists, in showing that they could do other types of perimeter-inspired poetry as well. “Freeze Frame” and “Centerfold” are standards that will survive in pop culture far beyond we who are living today, as will the band’s blues rock survive for R&B seekers in forthcoming generations.

The best pop artists, the ones selling the most records, are not doing it because they do it better. That’s settled now. The challenge Peter Wolf and the J. Geils Band has for any pop band or singer, is can they now, with their talents, sing from their for-real souls, as well as from their musical abilities. When and if Taylor Hicks can get his pop standards up for forthcoming generations, he will still need to return to his music for his soul.
 
 

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Note: The video is no longer available on Youtube, but here is the Myspace link:

J. Geils Band – Floyd’s Hotel


 
 
The above performance of “Floyd’s Hotel” is from BBC TV’s Old Grey Whistle Test on January 9th, 1973. I have not been able to transcribe the words precisely. Below is what I am hearing. But I cannot make out the first few words, so I include the words from the album “The Morning After” in parentheses, like so:

(She had big rosy red) hips, oh nice and round
Red rosy lips, you know they really got me down

I know very well that that is incorrect, as the progression itself is altered. This is what is on the album:

She had big rosy red hips really knocks them right on
She had juicy red lips that really laid me down

It is interesting to hear how the progressions are different from the album in 1971 to the 1973 rendition. What has come out, and been replaced is this:

Smilin’ Jim, he’s the cat that checks you in
Big fat Smilin’ Jim, you know he signs you in
Don’t ask where you goin’
He don’t care where you been

What we have instead, is the Hyde Park stanza below.

If you hear it better, let me know. I am open to corrections.
 
 
 

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performed by J. Geils Band
            Stephen Jo Bladd, drums
            Magic Dick, harp
            J. Geils, guitar
            Seth Justman, keyboard
            Danny Klein, bass
            Peter Wolf, vocals

 
 
written by
            Seth Justman
            Peter Wolf
            & of course, Juke-Joint-Walden
 
 
Floyd’s Hotel
 
 
(She had big rosy red) hips, oh nice and round
Red rosy lips, you know they really got me down
She stuck me in a taxi
And drove me way across town

She got me down, down to Floyd’s Hotel
She got me down, down to Floyd’s Hotel
Lotta cheap rooms
Always something nice to sell

Fellow there, you know they call him Tyrone
Fellow there, you know they call him Tyrone
He don’t care where you go
Always leave you alone

Met a fellow hanging out in Hyde Park
Walking around Hyde Park, met a fellow called Tyrone
That was his name–gave him five quid
You know he really turned me on

Going down, down to Floyd’s Hotel
I’m going down, down to Floyd’s Hotel
Lotta cheap rooms
Always something nice to sell
 
 
 
 

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September 10, 2006

Call 911: Beck, Armitage, & Stevie Ray Vaughn Out of the Blue

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Jeff Beck–Going Down (1983, Arms Concert NY)

 
 

If I were to say that Jeff Beck is one of the great rock and roll guitarists, thousands or millions of people would be outraged that I did not name him as the single greatest. And here is one of the great rock songs, “Going Down.” If you like this kind of music, the guitar work is extraordinary. Frankly, I am at risk of not completing this poetry blog post, because I want to play this over and over, just listening and appreciating. But, isn’t there a flaw with the song–I mean, what about the lyrics?
 

Going Down
 

Well I’m going down
Down, down, down, down, down
I’m going down
Down, down, down, down, down
I’ve got my head out the window
And my big feet on the ground

She’s gone
Gone, gone, gone, gone, gone
She’s gone
Gone, gone, gone, gone, gone
I’ve got my head out the window
And my big feet on the ground

So I’m going down
Down, down, down, down
I’m going down, down, down, down, down
Down, down, down, down, yes I am
I’ve got my head out the window
And my big feet on the

Well I’m goin
Down, down, down, down, down
I’m going down
Down, down, down, down, down
I’ve got my head out the window
And my big feet on the ground
Gone
Gone, gone, gone, gone, gone
She’s gone
Gone, gone, gone, gone, gone
I’ve got my head out the window
And my big feet on the

Well I’m Down
Down, down, down, down, down
I’m going down
Down, down, down, down, down
I’ve got my head out the window
And my big feet on the ground, yes I have
Well she walked out the door
And I crawled right out there

 

 

In rock and roll, to have that much singing in a song, you’d think there’d be room for something more, some more depth. These words are okay. They give a background to feature the intrumentation with. And we get it about the going down part. So okay, but, on the other hand–just okay. Yet and still, the song remains amazing, if you’re into this kind of music.

What does this have to do with poetry, and Simon Armitage? For the 5th anniversary of 9/11, Armitage has a film-poem coming out. It’s called Out Of The Blue (the link is to his blog where the poem is, and here’s more blogging about it).

I love the technical virtuosity, and his musical ear in the poem. If you like this kind of poetry, it is remarkable. A minor downside is that it reads at times like he had T.S. Eliot ambitions while writing it. That’s okay. This post ends with Jeff Beck being joined by Stevie Ray Vaughn. Unreal!!–though SRV may be the only guitarist who honestly can do a great tribute to Hendrix. So, the “tribute” aspect of Armitage’s poem is forgivable, if existent for a given reader.

Isn’t there a real flaw with the poem, though? In the Richard Brooks article, Poem for 9/11, by the laureate in waiting, in the last Sunday London Times, Armitage is quoted as saying, “I wanted to do something which was both commemorative and elegiac, but not political.”

If Armitage is going to load his character with thoughts of someone, anyone, in the Towers five years ago, why load his or her mind with section three? Here’s some of it:

Is it shameless or brash to have reached top,
just me and America
ninety floors up?

Is it brazen to feel like a king, like a God,
to be surfing the wave
of a power trip,

a fortune under each fingertip,
a billion a minute, a million a blink,
selling sand to the desert,

ice to the Arctic,
money to the rich.
The elation of trading in futures and risk.

Here I stand, a compass needle,
a sundial spindle
right at the pinnacle.

Under my feet
Manhattan’s a simple bagatelle, a pinball table,
all lights and mirrors and whistles and bells.

In an e-mail, I wrote this to him a few nights ago:

The problem is in Section 3, where your character goes into a hubris situation, but also where he has ideas that truly a normal worker wouldn’t. For instance, a salesman would not really sell ice to the Arctic per se, but would look for where there was a need a fill it. An individual worker is not concerned with millions in a blink–his next $500 commission, or Friday’s paycheck with the $120 in overtime maybe.

Your risk becomes that a legitimate read is that the poet is saying that this type of thinking in your section 3, is representative of what the thousands who died were going through. My initial read was simply that you were showing how the greatest a human society can create or has come to, can become dust in moment. I suggest making this statement some other way than by making it part of your character.

Therefore, early in the poem, that character is no longer human, but representative of something social, and what follows is a comeuppance, and legitimately a political alignment because the murderous and destructive events were human-made. Of course, I do not think you mean for this to be the case, or that you believe this, but this is how the poem can be read and so will be, and maybe, therefore, should be.

Possibly, the video production will make up for his banker/ghost saying these things or having these thoughts five-years hence. On the other hand, loading a representative character with those words might bring such a poet as Armitage down quickly, especially one commissioned as a laureate-in-waiting. Look what happened after Amiri Baraka’s Somebody Blew Up America, and Armitage’s poem is debuting on an even wider stage than Baraka’s.

We’ll see. In the mean time, I can enjoy his great riffing with the language. First, though, let me hear that Beck/Vaughn guitar duet one more time.

Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jeff Beck

 

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Commemorative 9/11 Addendum
 


 

One way to commemorate 9/11 is with a Desktop Theme called “In Memory Sep 11” by Ingalill Colbell at Themes You Have Never Seen Before (Page 5).

And by the way, I organize my themes using Desktop Architect.

 

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