Sunday, 22 July 2012
ELDER MUSIC: The A.M.'s Travelogue
This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
Today I can put my feet up, sit back and relax because Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, has taken over the column.
Regular readers will definitely know by now that the A.M. and I recently spent some time in America (and Canada, in the case of the A.M.). Ronni wrote about our visit with her here, here and here. I wrote a musical version here.
Now it’s the A.M.’s turn to give her perspective. Take it away, A.M.
You've heard from Peter about the first half of our trip together, and his return to the West Coast. Today, it's my turn to cover my further adventures with more music and some holiday photos.
While Peter was tackling his Greyhound bus, I was continuing eastward to New York and had flown out of Spokane earlier that morning quite uneventfully. My connecting flight from Minneapolis-St Paul actually left 10 minutes early (there's a first), with the captain trying to beat the peak hour at La Guardia.
They must have been pedaling extra hard up in the cockpit as we picked up more time and arrived 30 minutes early. However, we came into a different terminal from that scheduled, so my friend could see that my flight had landed but with no clue as to where I was!
As far as I'm concerned, the Empire State Building is still the iconic New York landmark. Fortunately, it still stands alone in the midtown area and it often appeared in the background of my photos. Here it is seen through the Manhattan Bridge.
There's only one possible musical choice to celebrate arriving in New York, and that is FRANK SINATRA with New York, New York.
Next day, armed with Ronni's restaurant recommendations and a head full of New York songs, I set off to explore. My previous visit to NYC was in July 1976, amid bicentenary celebrations of Independence Day. That was a brief visit and I was looking forward to seeing more this time.
First stop was Greenwich Village which has a distinct neighborhood feel. As well as the street trees and little corner parks in spring greenery all around NYC, there were colorful little community gardens taking over vacant land. This is one of a group along Bleecker Street.
By contrast, the music is in a different mood, but it is early SIMON & GARFUNKEL and about Bleecker Street and the Village. It's the title track from their first LP, Wednesday Morning, 3AM.
Then I headed off to Canada, specifically Quebec City and Montreal. On the western side of the continent, we admired the Columbia River. On the eastern side is the mighty St Lawrence which runs through both these cities.
Quebec still proudly displays its French heritage along with the striking Quebecois flag. It has successfully maintained the historic feel of the old town within the city walls. Even a coffee-shop belonging to a certain ubiquitous chain is limited to a small discreet display of its logo for identification.
Both upper and lower towns are very photogenic and this is one of the most photographed views down to the lower town.
THE BAND's song, Acadian Driftwood, is about the exile of the French Canadian settlers after their defeat by the British on the Plains of Abraham outside Quebec in 1759. This was one of several episodes of displacement for the Acadians, starting with that from Acadie, originally the maritime provinces of what would become Canada.
The Band consisted of four Canadians and one American who started out as The Hawks. Sadly, we heard of the death of The Band's only American member, drummer/singer Levon Helm, while we were in San Francisco. He was still playing music up until he died and will be featured in Peter's end-of-year tributes.
Montreal has a smaller old town area remaining. It has more varied neighborhoods, with a multitude of restaurants. Eating seems to be a popular local pastime which my friend and I were happy to share in. The smoked beef sandwiches are an institution – yum!
This is the old Bonsecours Market on Rue St Paul, the long cobbled street through old Montreal. It is no longer used as a market, but houses modern shops.
As far as Montreal musicians go, Peter has recently featured Leonard Cohen, and also Kate McGarrigle's beautiful song, Talk to Me of Mendocino. So I have chosen JESSE WINCHESTER who adopted Montreal as his home when he left the U.S. as part of the resistance to the Vietnam War. He lived there for many years and became a Canadian citizen, before returning to the U.S. about 10 years ago.
His songs have often referred to his early years in the South, but this one seems to find a balance between the two parts of his life. It is Nothing But a Breeze.
I had several stays in New York between side trips. My delay story (the first) came while returning from Montreal to New York by train. It's a scenic, all-day trip and after dawdling along the banks of the Hudson River, we pulled into Yonkers on the Sunday night about the time we were due at Penn Station. There they announced a delay.
When I say “announced,” the conductress had to walk through the carriages as the PA system wasn't working. The problem was the swing-bridge we had to cross – it had been closed but they couldn't lock it. There was an excuse I hadn't heard before!
After a while, they announced we could transfer to another train which was going to Grand Central via a different bridge. So we “gathered our personal belongings” and stood about on the platform fidgeting. Just before the other train arrived, they announced that the bridge was now locked so we all reboarded.
We finally moved off but at snail's pace which didn't inspire confidence in the bridge. I eventually got back up to the top left-hand corner of Manhattan to see this troublesome bridge across the Harlem River in daylight. I did Take the A Train to get there but perhaps you can just sing that to yourselves as I already have a full quota of songs today.
Next was Boston. After all those miles on Amtrak, I was feeling like a Railroad Lady by the time I reached South Station in Boston. South Station is one of those splendid old-time stations with a still-splendid Great Room.
When the first trains left the station on New Year's Day 1899, the ladies had the use of a waiting room equipped with rocking chairs as well as the usual furniture. Alas, no rocking chairs today.
Here is JIMMY BUFFETT to sing about his Railroad Lady.
At South Station, I had to switch to local transport. I knew about the MTA from the old Kingston Trio hit (yes, it was a hit in Australia back in about 1959), although it was originally written some years earlier to protest a fare rise.
The song was about a character named Charlie who was doomed to ride forever 'neath the streets of Boston because he didn't have an extra nickel to get off the train. To remind you, here is the KINGSTON TRIO's M.T.A., also often known as Charlie on the M.T.A.
Well, the MTA is now the MBTA, or the T. And I was delighted to find that Charlie has been immortalised in the tickets, which are called Charlies. So my souvenir of Boston is a CharlieTicket.
When not using up Charlies, I walked a lot and on my wandering around the Faneuil Hall market area, I heard music. Being a sucker for street music and buskers, I followed my ears and found this terrific a cappella group called SIMILAR JONES. On a hot afternoon, what could be better than music and ice-cream? Here they are singing Room With a View.
My final week was back in NYC, with more hot weather and lots more walking: East Side, West Side, all around the town. One of the walks I especially enjoyed was the High Line which is a great example of urban recycling.
It is a linear park built along an old elevated railway line which was once used for freight through the West Side industrial area. You can find a lot of photos of this here. Click on “Visitor Photos.”
Another West Side walk was the Hudson River Park with a necessary pitstop for an iced latte at this riverside cafe. Incidentally, if you order an iced coffee in Australia, you will get a different drink. Here it is a milk drink, coffee-flavoured with a scoop or two of vanilla ice-cream.
To celebrate the weather, we will hear THE LOVIN' SPOONFUL. They emerged from the folk music scene in early 1960s Greenwich Village but they were no earnest folkies. They played good-time music, and Summer in the City was one of their hits back in 1966.
Eventually it was time to head for home, to L.A. and then on to Melbourne. By contrast with my early arrival at La Guardia, my flight out of JFK was delayed due to heavy traffic.
We boarded the plane on time, but then we just sat there and then sat there some more. Finally, after about an hour, we pulled away from the gate only to have the captain announce, "The good news is we're in the queue. The bad news is that all those planes you can see on the right-hand side are ahead of us. And they are only using one runway."
There were about 20 planes I could see and a few more in front of us so that had to be at least another hour before take-off. As compensation, there was a final sunset over Manhattan, with a parting view of the Empire State Building.
And for a parting song, we'll hear MEL TORME singing Manhattan. Well, there had to be a couple of clichéd choices in a column like this.
As a postscript, we were flying across the continent at night with the bonus of seeing city lights appearing out of the darkness. Flying over Las Vegas at night might well be the prettiest way to see it. So I'll finish off with HALL & OATES’ somewhat cynical take on it with Las Vegas Turnaround.