Saturday, October 11, 2008

Tin Pan Alley, Nick Reynolds RIP

Nick Reynolds, one third of the legendary folk trio The Kingston Trio, died Wed., Oct 1st 2008 of acute respiratory illness at the age of 75. A little slow on the uptake for me here, I know, but it’s been a hell of a week. I’m sitting here with a bellyfull of painkillers right now and they’re hardly doing me a lick of good in any respect. Anyway, back to Nick.

It’s hard to appreciate the impact The Kingston Trio had on pop music in the early 1960’s. Brian Wilson appropriated their idea of dressing nattily in identical striped suits and utilizing soaring harmonies to make an impression. Peter, Paul and Mary pretty much wanted to be them, and The Mamas and the Papas lifted arrangements directly from their songs (something that an inner circle member of pop-culture royalty like John Phillips denied to his dying day). The Trio took great inspiration from early mainstream folkies like The Weavers and Woodie Guthrie, of course, but also, and somewhat more unlikely, from the Calypso sounds of Harry Belafonte (hence their name). Most importantly, The Kingston Trio helped usher the second wave of American folk music into popular culture, something that would result in the development of artists such as Joan Baez and Arlo Guthrie and, most staggeringly, Dave Van Ronk and an angry little Jewish kid from Duluth who went by name Bob Dylan.

It’s sad to see you go, Nick, but you certainly more than did you part.

On another sad note, the owners of a five building stretch on West 28th St. in Manhattan’s Chelsea District lovingly referred to as Tin Pan Alley have placed the buildings up for sale, the real estate listing recommending the buildings be razed to make way for a new skyscraper. From the 1890’s to the late 1950’s, when The Brill Building and it’s corresponding rise of rock ‘n’ roll (or what passed for it coming out of Brill) changed the face of things, Tin Pan Alley was one of the two cultural heartbeats of NYC, the other being Greenwhich Village. In its heyday The Alley gave us luminaries like Irving Berlin and George Gershwin, and in its latter days the respectful and nostalgic revisionism of a genius like Tom Waits.

The New York Historic Districts Council along with the local tenants are, of course, up in arms about this and ready to fight city hall in order that this cultural historic hub of American music and musical theatre be saved from demolition. Many of you probably remember how well that went over with the massive push to save punk rock Mecca CBGB. Let’s just say that I’m of the opinion that we’re about to see yet another irreplaceable landmark of American cultural development succumb to soulless big money interests. No big surprise there. With the slow, agonizing death of American culture itself, who amongst the fascist pricks want to be viscerally reminded day to day of the physical expression of the phenomenon that they've so blithely destroyed. If they even have the hearts, minds or souls to give a shit. If you get the chance, stop by while you can.

Finally and unusually I’ll go ahead and end on a positive note. I received a package today from Jeff Smith over at Saustex Media containing the advances of their two upcoming releases – The Service Industry’s Keep the Babies Warm and The Summer Wardrobes’ Cajun Prairie Fire. I love both bands, and can’t wait to give a good sit down with them and write up my thoughts on them for you folks. They say high expectations lead to disappointment, but neither of these particular bands have let me down yet.A little farther down the road we’ve got The Cure’s incessantly pushed back (over six months now – the tour has even already come and gone) 4:13 Dream and The Supersuckers Get it Together, both of which I’m excited as shit about sinking my teeth into, so the next couple of months will hopefully be short on RIPs and long on some completely unbiased record reviews. Be back atcha when I get all that writing done.

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