The '60s slang that provides the chant at the climax of the tune may
seem a bit hoary these days: "Sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it
to me!" But the sentiment of the song is, of course, timeless, and
so is the artist who made it her own.
Aretha Franklin started out
strong at the House of Blues on Friday night, opening with a fiery
rendition of "Respect," and then sliding into a smooth and soulful
tribute to "Chicago's gentle giant," Curtis Mayfield. And it only
got better from there.
One of the highlights of the club's 10th anniversary bookings,
the 64-year-old Queen of Soul fronted a 23-piece band -- including
five backing vocalists and her son Teddy White Jr. on lead guitar --
and proceeded to offer a 90-minute overview of a five-decade career
that has spanned at least twice that many genres, from transcendent
gospel to sensual torch songs, and from gritty R&B anthems to a
Her latest accomplishment: a new song called "Never Gonna Break My
Faith," written by Bryan Adams and featuring a cameo by Mary J.
Blige, featured in the film "Bobby" and on a new album to be
released in February.
At this stage in her career, Franklin no
longer tours to promote new product or to build a reputation that
has long since been assured. But unlike some of her contemporaries,
she doesn't simply coast through her shows, either, offering
truncated medleys, unduly leaning on the backing vocalists and
counting the minutes until the end of her set. (The only concession
to her age and diva status: a break at mid-set that found her
leaving the stage for 15 minutes while the band vamped.)
Jazz to blues to opera
After covering many of the expected Motown high points in the first
half of the evening -- with "Think" standing as another high point,
and especially appropriate in the house that Aykroyd built --
Franklin devoted much of the remainder of the show to proving that
her voice is an instrument with few limits in terms of genre.
singer stretched out to claim the standards "Beyond the Sea" and
"Mack the Knife" as her own; sat behind the grand piano for a detour
into soulful jazz; dug deep into her considerable catalog for
several blues that emphasized her octaves-spanning powers, and
reprised the version of "Nessun Dorma" that she delivered on the
1998 Grammys as a last-minute replacement for Luciano Pavarotti.
In the process, a crowd that was happy just to bask in the
presence of a legend heard plenty of what earned her that position
and the music world's enduring respect.
Time for another installment of this column surveying the recent
crop of music books: Turn it up, and read on!
The pick of the litter here is without a doubt One Train Later,
a memoir by Police guitarist Andy Summers (St. Martin's Press,
$24.95). The title refers to the chance meeting Summers had with
drummer Stewart Copeland: If either had caught a different train one
afternoon in the mid-'70s, one of the most successful bands in rock
history might never have come together. The attitude Summers
displays in that title -- bemused, non-nostalgic and distanced
enough to be both very funny and brutally honest -- prevails
throughout the book, which is evenly divided between his early days
on the fringes of the British progressive rock movement and the
surprising rise of the Police concurrent with (but never really a
part of) the punk explosion.
The book ends with the demise of that beloved trio, leaving more
than two decades of solo work unaccounted for. But that's fine,
given that most of us want to read about the famously fractious
battles between bottle blonds Summers, Copeland and Sting, and the
writer/musician doesn't disappoint. "This time the studio feels more
like a canvas for dirty fighting," Summers writes of recording
"Ghost in the Machine" (1981). "The stakes have been raised, and
instead of rejoicing in the unbelievable success we have created
together, we lose sight of the big picture and go on in emotional
disorder, each one of us battling for his own territory. ... There
is a humiliating episode in the studio one day when as a result of
all this tension and loss of perspective, Sting goes berserk on me,
calling me every name under the sun with considerable vehemence,
leaving everyone in the room white-faced and in shock."
Ah, yes, we always knew Sting was an egotistical jerk! But
Summers doesn't shy away from his own rock-star foibles, and the
combination of this unflinching frankness and the author's
considerable insights into the making of the group's best music
combine for illuminating reading, leaving fans appreciating the
group's accomplishments all the more, and marveling that it ever
managed to create anything at all.
Though the Police chronologically fall into the era Simon Reynolds
covers in Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984
(Penguin, $16), they never show up in its pages: This overview of a
genre that was never really a genre focuses more on the "futurist
spirit" of post-punk/New Wave bands such as Joy Division, Gang of
Four, Talking Heads and Devo, echoes of which have certainly been
prevalent in many successful groups of late. While there have been
countless books on punk, the movements it inspired have been
woefully underexamined in the rock canon.
"Part of this book's
argument is that revolutionary moments in pop culture actually have
their widest impact after the 'moment' has allegedly passed and the
ideas spread from the metropolitan bohemian elites and hipster
cliques that originally 'owned' them into the suburbs and outer
regions," Reynolds writes.
That passage underscores the shortcomings in this book. One is
Reynolds' occasionally insightful but often dense and academic style
(the London-born critic's earlier books include the similarly
problematic Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave
Culture); the other is the incredibly wide scope of this
project, which inevitably leads many important and influential
groups under-covered. (Besides the Police, there's the Cure and XTC,
to cite just as few). It certainly doesn't help that the American
edition trims several hundred pages from the original British
version -- without mentioning the abridgement -- so perhaps we
should blame the publisher instead of the author for this overview's
sometimes sketchy nature.
All about the biz
Long the best guide for aspiring musicians or naive music-lovers
hoping to work in the infamous vipers' nest of the recording
industry, the sixth edition of Donald S. Passman's classic All
You Need to Know about the Music Business (Simon & Schuster,
$30) finds the well-respected Los Angeles music business attorney
revising and updating the original to include the ever-shifting
realities represented by digital sales, streaming videos, podcasts,
ring tones and other recent innovations. Some specifics in these
areas are already outdated -- the business is changing too quickly
at the moment for any book to keep pace -- but as always, Passman is
at his best when dispensing his most basic advice: Knowledge is
"I've discovered that a rock star and a brain surgeon have
something in common," the author writes. "It's not that either one
would be particularly good at the other's craft (and I'm not sure
which crossover would produce the most disastrous results), but
rather that each one is capable of performing his craft brilliantly,
and generating huge sums of money, without the need for any
The book won't necessarily make musicians financial and legal
experts, but it definitely will serve as a thorough primer about the
questions they need to ask and the most obvious land mines to avoid.
A thousand words ...
Other recent rock books worthy of a quick mention include two
beautiful collections: Forever Young: Photographs of Bob Dylan
by Douglas R. Gilbert (Da Capo, $23), which offers an exquisite look
at the artist at 23, and Glam! An Eyewitness Account (Omnibus
Press, $29.95), a gorgeous look at rock's prettiest genre, as seen
through the lens of legendary photog Mick Rock, and with a foreword
by David Bowie.
Since Then: How I Survived Everything and Lived
to Tell About It (G.P. Putnam's Sons, $26.95) is the second
installment of David Crosby's autobiography; like its predecessor,
Long Time Gone, it was co-written with Car Gottlieb, but it's
not nearly as essential, since it focuses more on recent events than
its subject's much more important years with the Byrds and sometimes
partners Stills, Nash and Young. And finally, for truly hard-core
progressive-rock geeks, Jim Christopulos and Phil Smart have given
us Van Der Graaf Generator: The Book, a massive, 317-page,
hardcover examination of every intricacy in the history of Pete
Hammill and his mates in a band that, let's face it, 99.9 percent of
rock lovers have never even heard of. But what a treat for us fans!
(Available online at www.vandergraafgenerator.co.uk/book_sell.htm.)