I have the blues. We have lost many great musicians this past year, David Bowie, Keith Emerson, and now Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell.
There will never be another time of such musical and artistic ferment as the 1950’s – 1970’s again. It was a time when a serious writer and poet in his thirties, like Cohen, could cross over into the music world and a country boy from Oklahoma, like Russell, could go from being an obscure LA studio musician to an in-demand songwriter/musician/performer playing with the likes of Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and Joe Cocker and having his songs recorded by Ray Charles, George Benson, B. B. King and Donny Hathaway.
I was introduced to Leonard Cohen by Judy Collins’ interpretation of “Suzanne” and Tim Hardin’s unforgettable version of “Bird on a Wire”. His lyrics painted pictures bleak and beautiful at the same time. While Dylan’s lyrics seemed like wide-angled shots panning wildly, Cohen’s focused on details and lingered on their subject.
I first heard Leon Russell when he played piano for the WABC TV show Shindig in the mid 1960’s and on countless top forty hits of the time like Gary Lewis and the Playboys’ “This Diamond Ring”. However, I first knew who he was in 1970. This was the year that he was prominently featured as part of Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. He also stood out on Eric Clapton’s first solo recording (try to imagine “Let It Rain” without his piano licks). Furthermore, he produced and played on Freddie King’s 1971 “Getting Ready” and his piano propels the (IMO) most iconic version of “Goin’ Down” ever. He then went on to write some great songs for Joe Cocker as well as the classics “A Song For You”, “This Masquerade”, and “Hummingbird”.
But it is not just the passing of some of the great artists of all time that is ruining my mood. After all, we have lost fine musicians during my entire lifetime. No, it is the feeling that we have reached a turning point in history. I feel that we may never be the same again.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s there was a yearning for freedom and a feeling that great possibilities were ahead. It seems now that any perceived freedom may be fleeting and that the future is limited by political and economic constraints. Heck, just try living in any major city today on the salary of a poet or musician.
There is a growing anti-intellectualism and a distrust of anything cultural or artistic among average people. In the 1800’s even small towns in America had orchestras and opera houses. In the 1950’s serious plays were aired live on television. In the 1960’s scientists were looked up to and even TV sitcoms had dads who were engineers and doctors. Today we have shows that glorify morons and mock anyone who has brains. Political pundits are now openly questioning the need for “experts” (a pejorative).
I went out tonight to photograph the super-moon. If you live under a rock, you may not have been aware of this event but there are countless articles on the internet describing the historic event and advising how to capture it with your camera. I pulled over to a spot where I could get a good shot. It was a parking lot in a semi-rural area. I immediately was asked by someone in an SUV if everything was alright. Duh, I had a camera on a tripod aimed at the moon. I assured him that I was only trying to take a picture. Next, another gentleman (not really) told me that I was on private property and I needed to get off of it, Now! I told him that I was only taking a photo of the moon but I would leave immediately. After taking a few steps away from me he turned around and told me that I should stay there as he was calling someone and that he wanted the “film” from my camera. I assured him that I only had a picture of the moon and that my camera was not pointed at his property. I then put my equipment in the car and took off. What in hell is happening to people?
How can we get people to trust in knowledge, beauty, art, photography, music, science, math, etc. again, instead of only being interested in macho belligerence, and forcing their ignorant will on others?