Stevie Ray Vaughn’s Version of Hendrix’s Little Wing

I don’t think there is any song in rock that swings as much as this one. The interesting thing is that for a version that bears so much fidelity to the original, it also adds something not found in Jimi’s. All in all a remarkable achievement. 

As Linda Bartley Kittler has pointed out, if you were to play the Hendrix and Vaughn side by side you would hear similar licks and harmonics as would be expected in any cover. However Stevie Ray’s changes are subtle, allowing one to tune into a place where the tiny changes create nuances for the connoisseur to savor.

Little Wing is an iconic song. Artists, many of whom are guitarists out to measure and pay hommage their play with the master. Sting naturally emphasizes his vocals. However even his version doesn’t neglect the guitar. I include the following for you to compare and enjoy.

Jeff Beck:

Derek and the Dominos (1970) Live at the Fillmore East:

Sting, which from the looks of the video, it seems like he’s made a trip to Pandora to create this travel log:

And of course:

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Just for Fun: Has Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes Erred in his Self-Diagnosis?

Another season of Sherlock on PBS is upon us. For those who can’t quite cotton to Downton Abbey then maybe this updating of the Holmes saga is your cup of tea, although I bet most would enjoy taking both.

Personified by Benedict Cumberatch’s mesmerizing performance, this Sherlock  successfully updates the Holmes’ setting  from the Victorian era to our iPhone age. The current writers have kept Sherlock a curio by maintaining his oddness and not quite of this world countenance. He is prickly and prideful. He is dismissive toward those who would be irritable and put off by his antics.

In this updating of the classic John Watson continues as a stand in for the audience to identify with. What would being around the brilliant Sherlock Holmes feel like? Martin Freeman as Watson is less hapless and bumbling and more of a character in his own right. He has his own personal traumas and his backstory is very important to the series. Freeman is at times bewildered and befuddled.  But more often Freeman has surprising reserves of gravitas making him more Samwise Gamgee to Frodo Baggins than inept Carlos Castaneda of the early volumes of the Don Juan stories.

So what about the self-diagnosis?

Over the course of series, Sherlock has referenced himself as a sociopath. Not an official term found in DSM 5 (aka the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association), the current default diagnosis is Anti-Social Personality Disorder. Let me choose the 3 aspects cited in the DSM that could conceivably make the case for Sherlock being correct.

1) Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest.

  • Part of Sherlocks schtick is that he so brilliant, what appears illegal, and often is, becomes tolerated because he gets results, much to the consternation of Scotland Yard. His ends-justifies-the-means schema can look anywhere from positively genius to monomaniachally, well, sociopathic.

2) Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure.

  • When Sherlock resorts to these tactics, he has his reasons. However there is a curious subplot which comes off positively 20th century. It has Cumberbatch plying “gotcha” with Freeman when it comes to feelings of love and regard, apparently something that manly men still don’t profess. For example we see Holmes feigning incapacity to stop a bomb from  going off in the Underground Subway to extract Freeman’s confession of  deepest sentiment. Given the show has suggested a homoerotic tension between the two, at least in the eyes of their landlady Mrs Hudson, played by the delightful Una Stubbs, this allusion of the the love that dare not speak its name seems dubiously puerile, even for Holmes. So does this rise to the level of sociopathy or is it just a mean spirited psychological defense shielding Holmes from his own yearning of what he mocks?

3) Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.

  • Here we have perhaps the strongest case for Holmes’ sociopathy. In the words of Watson, he can be an absolute “dick.” Or perhaps what we have here are the boundaries of a continuum ranging from dick to sociopath, with Watson placing Sherlock at the lighter end of the scale.

The thing about the most successful evil sociopaths is that though they are damn good at predicting the behavior of those “normals” of whom they would take advantage. Lacking this ability, a sociopath  would just be an oafish klutz of which, no doubt, there are many examples.  But the truly remarkable sociopath has charm even if it is crazed c.f. Hannibal Lector. Sherlock exudes charm to manipulate others when it serves his purpose. Maybe we can’t totally dismiss his claim to his diagnosis.

Also, Cumberbatch alludes to the old saw that were he not in the catching criminal side of the ledger he might be in the criminal perpetrating business.

In a purer form we could call Cumberbatch a case of adaptive sociopathy. However Dexter, the Showtime series, has this angle so deeply mined that Sherlock only rates as a lightweight. Still, conjuring an image like Godzilla versus Mothra, wouldn’t you kill to see a season of Sherlock versus Dexter?

But is there a better diagnosis?

I suppose the leading candidate would be called Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD. This the current catchall in DSM 5 for what used to be called Asperger Syndrome or AS.

Social (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder 315.39

The obvious candidate is Asperger Syndrome, which like Sociopathy is nowhere found in DSM 5. The new diagnosis is Autism Spectrum Disorder. The principle characteristics are as follows:

• limited or inappropriate social interactions
• “robotic” or repetitive speech
• challenges with nonverbal communication (gestures, facial expression, etc.) coupled with average to above average verbal skills
• tendency to discuss self rather than others
• inability to understand social/emotional issues or nonliteral phrases
• lack of eye contact or reciprocal conversation
• obsession with specific, often unusual, topics
• one-sided conversations
• awkward movements and/or mannerisms

Benedict’s ability to and dance argues against this diagnosis, but his social awkwardness and obliviousness is an argument in favor.

Bill Gates has been said to have AS. But the caricature of Asperger’s that comes to mind is Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory. We get a little of that in Cumberbatch’s Sherlock.

The other contender would be something in the direction of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Here the lack of empathy to others is what makes NPD a consideration. But how does narcissism differ from sociopathy? One can think of narcissist as an sociopath minus the malice and, perhaps, cunning.

One can make the case for Sherlock’s character to have elements of sociopathy, AS, and narcissism. But let’s not get too serious. His best diagnosis may just be, “Brilliant.”

At the end of the day it adds up to a fascinating personality and entertaining television and for me that’s the takeaway.

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I Don’t Give a Hootenanny About Inside Llewyen Davis: The Coen Brothers Flawed Treatment of a Minor Story

Not a good Coen Brothers movie. The buzz for this film is its depiction of the  folk scene in Greenwich Village from the early 60′s. And charitably, one could make the case that it explores the road not taken by the Don Draper in Mad Men. And perhaps if Mad Men had not already mined this territory so much better, Inside Llewyen Davis would feel more compelling.

Instead what we get is a character study of an unsympathetic guy who really could be situated in any era. To paraphrase Paul Simon, Llewyen is empty and aching and not really sure why. And more than that, he doesn’t seem to really care himself.

Brothers Coen give to little back story, to create much interest in the goings on here. The folk singers played by Justin Timberlake, Adam Driver, and Stark Sands are so cornball they could have been crashed an early audition of Hee Haw had there been one.

The angst of Llewyen and Jean Berkey played by Carrie Mulligan, who might be pregnant with his child, seems designed to give some pathos, the only problem being in the words of Joy Behar, “Who cares?” Jean is uber loose even by standards of the day. It’s not clear what she sees in husband Jim played by Justin Timberlake. She claims she just wants marital contentment in suburbia which is hysterically bad writing. As if suburbia were some kind of Folk Singer Heaven. Did the writers forget to tell the audience what they know about this character to make such a thought plausible or did they just go suddenly Aspberger’s.

This a movie that seems intent on playing it small. It will never be accused of trying to make a statement, which is funny given that the era was nothing if not not making pronouncements on everything.

Also without providing any psychological understanding about why Llewyen is so perenially cranky, the audience doesn’t know whether to feel for tragedy or off beat humor. So dry a film. Was this a reject an early Wes Anderson script?

The one chance to gain understanding of Llewyen’s personality comes when Llelyen meets his father in a nursing home. Llewyen warbles a sentimental favorite song of his father who doesn’t acknowledge the gesture, likely because he is demented. Llewyen takes his father’s dementia personally, but without much sense of loss, maybe cause he doesn’t expect anything more. That’s it. That’s all we get to see.

Another small moment. Driving back to New York from Chicago after a failed try to impress a music impresario, Llewyen sees a highway turn off for Akron, the town where he has a 2 year old child from a casual relationship that he didn’t know existed because he  thought the pregnancy ended in abortion. Ooh what’s he go to do? will he turn and search for the child ? or will he keep going? This is what passes for drama in this flick.

Look, the Coen Brothers never intended to make 300 and ONE or whatever the sequel to 300 is being called. And there is much to be said about celebrating the epiphanies and struggles with which, what Sly Stone calls “everyday people,” contend. But if you are going to go small, you have to make us care. You have to take us someplace emotionally where we might feel or incorporate something worthwhile.

Otherwise writers are inflicting the trauma on the audience that perhaps Llewyen experienced in childhood and is still reeling from in this story. In psychology we call this Turning Passive into Active. Or we do to others in our relationships what was done to us growing up by our parents. If this were Shakespeare, we would contemplate the nuance. But here, I just couldn’t be motivated to give a ….

(see this blog’s title for the punchline and in so doing get some idea of the cheap parlor trick used by Joel and Ethan Coen which they borrowed from Pulp Fiction, where the film doubles back at its end to what was already depicted in the beginning only this time the audience knows just the slightest bit more. )

And they still don’t care.

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Downton Abbey Season 4: Episode 2 Television Review

When I review television or a Broadway show, I like to know as little as possible so as to have an untinged impression. Or more properly put, I can allow whatever tinging that occurs to emanate as much as possible from my own cauldron of experience.

And so that has been the approach I have taken with season 4 of Downton Abbey, a show I came to on day 1.

Media build up to this season meant that I had some exposure to headlines of critiques that were based on the reviewer having already digested the whole season. What I gleaned suggested the acting was fine, but beware the plot. After the first two episodes which were shown together on PBS last weekend, I thought the concern to be overblown if not precious.

Now with episode 2, let me add my voice to the chorus. CURSE YOU writers of Downton Abbey season 4! What have you wrought on our poor Anna aka Mrs Bates, Lady Mary’s personal servant. I know she makes a saintly bookend to her husband, but was this really necessary?

In retrospect I can see why writer Julian Fellows felt he had to go there (and by this I mean the RAPE or sexual assault or whatever exactly it turns out to be), but it is a place he went to because he wrote himself into a particular corner.

Not knowing what pressures he felt to turn Downton into a potboiler, but I can’t Maggie Smith as Violet Granthum being a big fan were she reading this episode as the plot in a Victorian novel.

No, what we have here was the naked fear of putting everyone to sleep. Let’s look at various character’s subplots. Lady Mary is left to deal with her grief which, while not very sexy, at least Carson the butler can play psychotherapist. Lady M has a  romance in the offing, but this was not enough to save poor Anna from her Fate.

Next we have Lady Edith, who despite being a total shit to sister Edith at many points in the first 2 seasons, has developed into something of a sympathetic character sa she strives to find love with older men because most of the young ones are buried on the continent after WWI. While emotionally fulfilling in its own way, we are not staying up until 10 to watch this.

Lord and Lady Granthum rate a big snore. Except that Fellows and his fellows have seen fit to bring back Edna back as Lady G’s maid back as Lady G’s attendant. Edna made smoochy, smoochy with Lord G in an earlier season. Although I see from a brief perusal of Wikipedia’s cast list Edna is not long for this job. Which is fine. We need villains and her cozying up to Evil Thomas would seem to have delicious potential. Anyone cosying up to Thomas has delicious potential! However with Edna flitting about there is no sense that Lord G has anxiety or any  scandalous delight in her presence. It doesn’t pass the smell test.

What else? Isobel Crawley is somewhat confined to a similar fate as Lady Mary but is being beckoned from of grief by Maggie Smith, the Dowager Countess.

Tom Branson is getting back in touch with his Irish class routs and will likely get help from Edna in that regard.

And just about everything happening downstairs is in total nod land. Don’t these people know when to stop?

Oh Bloody Hell! I am almost talking myself into rooting for Bates to kill Anna’s rapist once he discovers the horror of what has befallen her. At least they know how to have a prison based relationship. Maybe that show could play “Lock Up!”weekends on MSNBC.

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Also see reviews of Downton Abbey Seasons 1, 2, and 3 written 2/11, 1/12, 1/13.


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Book of Mormon: Orpheum Theater San Francisco 1/12/14

It’s not unusual for a matinee performance to feature an understudy or two, even in the  2 month stay of a bus and truck tour. So it was a degree of trepidation that I noted Cody Jamison Strand was listed in the loose sheet addition to the playbill as Elder Cunningham, a not inconsequential leading role in Book of Mormon. To make matters worse there was no mention made of any biographical information. Into the void we were open to spin a fantasy or two.

Did the B of M company currently at The Arnoff in Cincinnati need an emergency Cunningham and so was giving an emergency tryout to Strand in SF just to make sure he could do it? Did AJ Holmes, the regular SF Cunningham, get so wrapped up the 49er-Panther playoff game that he forgot to make call?

We’ll never know.

What I do know is that Strand played his Elder with panache and winning ease. The mark of a pro is that the audience never figures out who the substitute is.

What one gets about the show is the fun Trey Parker and Matt Stone must have had writing it. Everybody knows the creators of South Park have always had a walk on the  great line between paying homage to The Great White Way while simultaneously goofing on it.

The straight man for their comedic daggers in B of M is the Lion King which was just too juicy to pass up.

In a similar vein there is plenty of skewering of the happy coincidences that the Mormon faith’s believers can never doubt and skeptics will never countenance. While not intended as treatise on Mormonism, there is obvious affection for the Mormon culture that allow Parker and his cohorts to avoid mere mean spiritedness while it actually aids them as they rip to shreds vast quantities upon various Mormon beliefs.

Beyond that all I can say is that the show has great energy, worthy dancing, and performances that are outstanding.

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Downton Abbey Season 4: Episodes 1 Television Review

Goodness, it’s time for my 4th review of Downton Abbey. Already the most successful series in the long history of PBS in America, all of our favorite characters still standing after the end of Season 3 have returned, with exception of O’Brien, who we loved to hate, as Lady Granthum’s personal attendant.

In her absence the mantel of evil has fallen on Thomas the houseman, who for the moment is doing double duty until he grooms O’Brien’s replacement, the previous Downton hire, Jane Moorsum, she of the brief mutual infatuation with Lord G.

We see how dense a serial drama has become as it lurches toward the soap opera that most shows become if they reach sufficient longevity. In a show so steeped in narrative convention, one had better like the characters and care about the conflicts and travails with which they must contend or why bother. And here I am still bothering.

This year seems it will continue the trend of the democratization of the house in keeping with the times, this being 1922. There is more personal interaction re crossing family/staff boundaries. So we see Tom Branson, the ex-chauffer who married into the family by betrothing Lady Sybil before her untimely demise during childbirth, pleading with Carson to intercede with Lady Mary to insist she join the land of the living after she has become mired in a state that has become as much self pity as grief for the death of her husband Matthew Crawley. Carson is able to lance her grief and she gets in touch with the sadness she has actually been warding off. In true to life fashion, Mary feels better after a good cry. And in British fashion Carson exhorts her to find her strength by finding her stiff upper lip. We all know Downton Abbey is not Esalen.

Also taking a tip toward modernism is the plot twist of Lady Mary finding herself the beneficiary of a will giving her 50%  interest in the estate. Its not exactly clear to me how Matthew, as husband, was in a position to leave his inheritance to Mary where Lord G, as father, couldn’t. But Lord G, who can definitely be a prig, actually doesn’t put up much fight over this turn of  events. And all members of the family can barely contain their joy.

At last count there have been 43 characters in the show important enough to be listed in Wikipedia. It makes me think of the task of keeping the writing interesting, interconnected, relevant, entertaining and believable. The first season serves as an introduction. Character development is revealed through plot development. I imagine it may be easy, at least conceptually. If the writer has created a solid foundation, then Season 2 may also have some ease to it in that there is further development of the basic characters and plot devices originated in Season 1. Of course there are actors leaving the show and new ones presenting themselves. Season 3 continues the development.

My bet is that Season 4 for reasons of the shows length and the historical tensions of the life Downton depicts  being not tenable for much longer, will be the season to try to not jump the shark. As happens in life, there is an infatuation that occurs when we first are getting to know someone. Not that familiarity breeds contempt, but repetition has way of turning of what once seemed novel and refreshing into a cliche.

The main antidote to such a fate is to write about people who grow, so we have something with which to identify. Or if there are villains do more than just give them their comeuppance. teach us something we don’t already know or help us get in touch with foibles and tribulations of others to help us grow in compassion.

This is my hope for Season 4 and beyond.

Finally I can’t stop with out giving a plug for Violet played by Maggie Smith. In her own way she has grown as much as anyone in the show. While becoming softer, she can still deliver a zinger like nobody’s business. So while she will always posses the iron fist, the velvet glove is becoming more a part of her repertoire.

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Also see reviews of Downton Abbey Seasons 1, 2, and 3 written 2/11, 1/12, 1/13.

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Dave Mason Concert Uptown Theater, Napa, Ca 12/15/13

Rarely have I attended a show where I was so familiar and intimate with almost every song performed. So I am disappointed to report such strong mixed feelings about Dave Mason and his band last night in Napa, Ca.

Mason is an artist known for his solo material and, of course, his work with Traffic. In all his strongest material comes from the years of 67-73, with an outlier song being, “We Just Disagree,” one of the best breakup songs of the 70′s or any decade. It is one he didn’t write and is ironic because he is best known for “Feeling Alright?” which as he freely admitted on stage, is better done by Joe Cocker even if Mason is laughing all the way to the bank with royalties from all the movie and commercial royalties.

The point is that at least in the world of Rock and Roll most people write their best stuff before age 30. If one is fortunate to have achieved a modicum of fame with a segment of one’s peers then after some necessary fallow period, and  if one hasn’t done too much damage with intoxicants or other side effects of fame, there will be a chance to come back and relive glory years with the same people who have always liked you.

DM did well in this concert when he stuck to his own material. The early part of the show featured material from his Alone Together album, his first and best solo work after leaving Traffic. As an 18 year old listener, the lyrics felt like wisdom from some wise older brother I never had.

From Look at You, Look at Me:

Looking all around me what do I see
Lots of changing faces and lots of things to be
But I’m happy just to be a part of all I see
As I turn round to look at you
And you look back at me

There isn’t time to hang around
So fill your heart with lovin’
And open up the door
Someone’s calling out to you
And that’s what love is for
As I turn round to look at you
And you look back no more

I’m feelin’ up
I’m feelin’ down
My head’s been twisted
All around
But now my feet
Are on the ground
For everyone to see

There’s many ways to reach you
Though you’re far away
All the little things we do
The little things we say
I miss you like I miss the sun
I need you every day
As I turn round to look at you
And you look back my way

Back then I loved the line, “But I am happy just to be a part of all I see.” I still do. It conveys a sense of optimism and hope that is needed in dealing with the parts of life one experiences that are conflicting or not pretty. It’s also announces something like a philosophical stance vis a vis the world which resonates for me. These lyrics were probably penned by co-author and Dave’s childhood friend Jim Capaldi who is also a Traffic bandmate. No matter. Great song.

The first signal of trouble with the show came with the second song, “40,000 Headman,” a Steve Winwood and Capaldi collaboration. Imagine John Lennon performing Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday” at a solo concert. Jarring right? Well for an Traffic aficionado, there is not much good afoot with Mason doing Winwood. After all they never collaborated in the manner of their Liverpool bretheren.

The proof came in the middle section of the concert when Mason said he is planning an upcoming tour to be called Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam, and we, the Napa audience, were to be “guinea pigs.” I can’t tell you how cringe worthy and miscalculated a rendition “Dear Mr Fantasy” was, but I can try. It’s as if Mason had a devil and angel sitting on opposite shoulders. The devil says, “Hey Dave, Stevie Winwood sucks. You were always the better writer. Go ahead, make the song your own.” And the Angel says, “Oh, don’t feel too guilty changing  the song around. Make the ooh and ah part exactly like the record, that will make you feeling better and the audience will love it.” Only it made for tangled mess leaving Mason to sound like the rhythm guitarist in a Traffic tribute band as my rock expert friend Gary Massucco wryly notes in the comments section below.

Dave rethink this. It’s a not good fit. And makes you seem desperate, when we all know you are not.

Other Traffic songs written and sung by Winwood/Capaldi fare little better. Mason recognized that his own voice was not suited for several of these tunes and gave his keyboard player the unlucky assignment to channel Winwood.

The end of the concert came through strongly with the return to material he is associated with such as “Let it Go, Let it Flow” and “All Along the Watch Tower.” And in the encore he came through with  a funk version of “Feeling Alright” which worked just fine. The devil had finally been put to rest.

Two final observations: Mason has completely lost what we Americans would call his “English accent.” Also he is one pork pie hat away from being able to play Breaking Bad’s Walter White at least on Halloween.

One of the only songs which he didn’t play from Alone Together and my favorite:

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Frozen–Movie Review–Psychological Themes Suggested by Hans Christian Anderson’s The Ice Queen

It’s good to see Disney Studios has not lost it’s touch in this entertaining story, oh so loosely based on Han’s Christian Anderson’s The Ice Queen. Some of the characters and plot are taken from the famous Anderson fable.

Let’s dive into the story and psychological underpinnings of the characters. Elsa and Anna are two princesses in a happy kingdom in the fjords of Norway. Elsa, the older sister, has powers to make objects and surfaces freeze. There is no back story as to how she came upon her prowess.

Let’s just that for children, as for adults, emotion feels very powerful. Growing up involves not just coming to understand how to feel, but what to do with the instant feedback our emotions give us in many life situations.

Elsa’s parents are told Elsa’s ability to freeze objects will only more powerful as she grows up. Also there is a moral component to Elsa’s situation as her abilities will need to be mastered since they will not be automatically good or evil. She will need to confront her fears because it has been foretold that her fears will have the power to distort her gifts. Will her special powers be a blessing or a curse?

As a young girl Elsa accidentally hurts Anna. Elsa seeks out the help of a troll so that  Anna may recover. Her parents, the King and Queen, admonish Elsa to hide her power so she doesn’t hurt her sister (or anyone) anymore. In the tradition of Bambi, Elsa’s parents die soon after they are introduced. It’s not a good idea for parental figures to take poorly explained and seemingly random sea cruise at the beginning of a Disney movie. Elsa is left as a young teenager to fend for herself as she inherits the throne.

Here’s what we have so far:

Young Elsa manages to accidentally hurt her sister. Her parents are around long enough to suggest that she is too dangerous to be in anyone’s company. Without further guidance she takes to literally to heart what her parent’s message that her powers and the feelings that motivate them are inherently dangerous. Elsa cuts off physically and emotionally from Anna.

Elsa grows up stuffing her feelings. She renounces her closeness to her formerly beloved sister not only to protect Anna but as the price she must pay for having dangerous feelings such as anger. Unable to master her anger, her destructive ability to deadly freeze others grows unchecked. Being emotionally cut off from her own feelings and the presence of others, Elsa is dying.

Anna is a different story. Anna has no idea why her sister Elsa has cut off from her emotionally. She is not privy to the messages her parents imparted to Anna. Anna has a slight inferiority complex but it doesn’t hold her back as she is game to throw off the emotional shackles of living a protected life. Anna is looking for love in the worst way which, of course, she finds in the person of a scheming young prince from a distant land.

More of the movie focuses on Anna, but it is of less importance from a psychological perspective as she most find pluck and moxie. Elsa has the more substantive role but not perhaps not the as much of the audiences’ sympathy as she is the more royal of the two.

In Disney animation, parents can’t be depicted as having direct responsibility for creating their children’s emotional problems. Or at least most of the time, it can’t be too blatant. An evil step-mother, now that’s a different story. One reason this works is that in real, as well as reel, life children endow their parents with supreme authority.

Children are not able to readily identify ways in which their mother and father aren’t parenting well. In fact I’d say just about 100% of the time children blame themselves for the traumas that befall their parents as well as themselves. So in stories such as Frozen, children are left to their own devices securing help wherever they may find it as parental figures aren’t around or are the cause of their suffering.

Youngsters in the audience relate readily because it feels like the story is a recounting of the very issues they are struggling with. As if some inexplicable source knows exactly what they are going through.

With Frozen, Disneyfied as it is, the message is that the effects of trauma can be overcome. The takeaway is that Elsa can tame the power of her emotions and be stronger for it. In so doing, she can embrace her sister without fear or guilt. She is free to connect with everybody.

In this story, like so many, love conquers fear. Internal growth, healing, and deliverance from a tragic fate is the happy outcome. Elsa unabashedly feels and integrates her power with grace. Anna gets her guy. Olaf keeps his nose. Sven gets a new sleigh. Broadway’s Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel keep the patter spritely and the songs soaring.

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Theater Review: Jeff Buckley and Shakespeare? A meeting of two poets in The Last Goodbye. Old Globe Theater, San Diego, CA 10/3/13.

Straight out, this is no geek review. The musical The Last Goodbye is an updating of Romeo and Juliet featuring the music of Jeff Buckley. The only two songs in the show I recognized are the two he didn’t write: Corpus Christi Carol of medieval origin and popularized by Benjamin Britten and, of course, Hallejulah written by Leonard Cohen and popularized by Mr Buckley.

The concept is to take Buckley’s music posthumously and find how his songs might explore, illustrate and create a dialogue with Mr Shakespeare.

We all know the outlines of the story. Loves finds a way between two young people at the personal, spiritual level only to be undone by the forces of the hating/raging part of human nature expressed at a societal level.

What I can say about the music is that it is powerful (and played with alacrity by a band led byKris Kukel which hides periodically in plain sight on stage). The song lyrics that I picked up on always seemed to go with the story. Also I’d like to credit Michael Kimmel, who conceive and adapted the show, for cleverly weaving the moments that take us from dialogue to song. Frequently the effect was to take Shakespeare’s language, already highly edited and toned down for American audiences, and fusing it with the Buckley’s passionate musc.

The cast is a joy starting with Jay Armstrong Johnson as Romeo and Talisa Friedman as Juliet. For this story to work the leads have to establish chemistry very quickly if for no other reason than that the show is of such high energy one scarsely realizes each act is completed in 45 minutes. There ain’t no time for loafing with the plot development. Perhaps the staging suffers from lack of backstory. Without racial divisions a la West Side Story, there needs to be some nod as to why these kids are always ready to drop the gloves.

Johnson and Friedman do the best they can within the limitations of trying to fit in so many compelling Buckley tunes. Johnson carries a greater song load which only makes sense given they are written from Buckley’s male persuasion. Johnson is sonic and soaring, actually his singing is thrilling. He wails in his preparing for the poison scene in which he belts to the edge of his limit all the while thrashing in a foot of water on stage. However, he can easily accomodate quiet intimacy in those moments when Friedman adds her voice when they do it, ahem, I mean duet.

Friedman, who has a competent voice, excels in her acting. Her Juliet both yearns for Romeo from afar and yet can’t just throw herself at him when they finally meet. He must pitch enough woo to at least state his case.

The rest of the cast acquits themselves nobly. As Mercutio, Hale Appleman’s bravado and swagger is almost androgynous and always appealing. Jeremy Woodard plays Tybalt as a tattoo-faced Maori always seething and ready to go at any Montague for the sin of existing.

As Juliet’s lady in waiting Tonye Patano of Weeds fame has enough attitude for any situation and delivers it winningly. And as Friar Laurence, Stephen Bogardus, yes he’s my brother, and I thought he did a great job! I can’t be more objective than that.

My only quibble with the show is perhaps a generational thing. What’s with all the crotch grabbing? I’d think more than 20 years after Michael Jackson got this whole thing going that it would be about is “in” as hippies. But that’s me.

This show has aspirations to go to Broadway. I hope it makes it. Jeff Buckley’s brief flame is deserving of wider recognition. So do all connected with this endeavor.

One final observation I always liked Jeff’s father Tim. I’m including Tim Buckley’s song Goodbye and Hello for those who would like to ponder the father-son component of life imitating art initating life.

Rehearsal of The Last Goodbye from the current show:

Tim Buckley’s Hello and Goodbye:

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Billy Cobham and Spectrum 40: Uptown Theater Napa, Ca 9/27/13

Regular readers of this blog (both of you) know I have been reviewing many old time favorites. Tonight was no exception. Seeing Billy Cobham and comparing him to others found on this site is a fascinating commentary on the huge range of  how we humans age. Some artists have been barely able to stand at recent shows (BB King, Johnny Winter, Pharaoh Sanders, and Leon Russell come to mind) and their playing has deteriorated mightily.

Others occupy a middle ground such as Dr John, whom I saw one week ago. Ray Davies also fits this category. These players are illusionists. They are able to project images at various points in the show to remind the audience of their past greatness. They can give the outline of their dots to the audience who then obligingly make the connections. Such is the stuff of nostalgia.

Still others remain seemingly at the top of their game. I’d locate Jeff Beck, Herbie Hancock, the Zombies, and Brian Auger here.

Then there is Billy Cobham. 69 years old and this drummer can play whatever he wants at least for 4:44 and likely much longer than that. Tonight he put on a clinic, displaying the full range of his talents at least in the jazz-rock fusion genre music I was immersed in growing up.

Cobham can bring on the thunder with double bass drums, full array of tom-toms and cymbals crashing. At times his work on the high hat reminded me of Tony Williams, another Miles Davis alum from the same era. What he can still do like nobody else is solo off a drum role, playing it tight or loose however he sees fit. And while the band spent most of the night rocking, there were enough quiet interludes to suggest Billy could accompany New Age music if he so wished.

I became a Cobham fan in the early 70′s with his work on Miles’ sound track to the movie Jack Johnson and, of course his most celebrated work with the Mahavishnu Orchestra.  It’s that part of his discography which motivated me to attend tonight. So while I did not recognize any of the songs off his new Compass Point double CD, I wasn’t even a familiar with his Spectrum album of which the current band honors the 40th anniversary.The only song I recognized was Led Boots from Beck’s Wired album.

Reflecting on the amount of old and familiar music I have been attending got me to thinking about the older artist’s motivation to keep touring. Beyond the crass ego needs and retirement financial boosts, why do they do it? I mean what’s in it artistically for a group or individual to keep playing music from a youthful creative height?

And it suddenly hit me. If they don’t do it who will? Popular music is current music. Jazz and rock artists may have songs that will become classics. But for any group not named The Beatles, the bulk of the work will not endure. Most groups won’t have orchestras devoted to keeping their canon alive in two hundred years.

The audience tonight were few and hard core. I can’t remember a concert I have attended where a standing ovation was offered before a note was played and with continued standing O’s after most numbers.

Fusion Jazz is about as nichy a musical subtype as exists in music these days. This show was a chance to scratch an itch that mostly gets scratched when pulling out old CDs and LPs, yes LPs. I remember debates with friends about whether Larry Coryell was a more inventive soloist than John McLaughlin. Tonight I had the distinct pleasure of getting tribal with my people listening to my music.

Billy Cobham on drums with The Mahavishnu Orchestra (please forgive the ad intro):

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