George Harrison’s ‘Any Road’

George Harrison died fifteen years ago today.

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For nearly a decade before his death, George Harrison had been working slowly on a new solo album while dealing with a cancer diagnosis, surgery and treatments, a remission, and then, a new cancer and its eventual metastasization. He was also stabbed 40 times in a house invasion about two years before his death.

So George Harrison’s late 1990s was a period in which the “material world,” as he once called the here and now, appeared to be a genuinely unpleasant place, one that no longer wanted him around, but he retained a sharp wit about it anyway. Asked about his attacker, Harrison said that he “clearly wasn’t auditioning for the Traveling Wilburys.” (The attacker suffered from untreated schizophrenia and was found not guilty of attempted murder by reason of insanity.)

Working on his music through all of this, Harrison finished enough tracks to have a rough cut of a full album, but he finally ran into the ultimate deadline when cancer was found in his brain and he was given weeks to live. He wrote out instructions for his son, Dhani, and musical collaborator, Jeff Lynne, and they produced his final work, the farewell album Brainwashed, which they released a year after his death, in 2002.
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On His 90th Birthday, Chuck Berry Ends Silence

In 1979, Chuck Berry released Rock It, his only album with Atco Records. Aside from live albums, the occasional compilation, and the soundtrack to the film Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll, Rock It has held its position as the last, the most recent, Chuck Berry album ever since.

Until today. Chuck Berry celebrated his 90th birthday today with a surprise announcement: he will release a new album of original songs next year. It is to be titled Chuck.
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Bob Dylan

I can’t say when it occurred to me to write my own songs. I couldn’t have come up with anything comparable or halfway close to the folk song lyrics I was singing to define the way I felt about the world. I guess it happens to you by degrees. You just don’t wake up one day and decide that you need to write songs, especially if you’re a singer who has plenty of them and you’re learning more every day. Opportunities may come along for you to convert something — something that exists into something that didn’t yet. That might be the beginning of it. Sometimes you just want to do things your way, want to see for yourself what lies behind the misty curtain. It’s not like you see songs approaching and invite them in.—Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One

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Elvis Costello’s ‘The Last Year of My Youth’

Elvis Costello is 62 today. It might be obvious to anyone who visits these pages that I am something of an amateurish fan of his work. He is touring America (near me) this fall with a concert based on his 1982 album, Imperial Bedroom. This column first appeared in May:

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The phrase must have been much on Elvis Costello’s mind the summer of 2014: he was going to perform a set of solo shows at Carnegie Hall in June and he had even titled the shows “The Last Year of My Youth.” But he did not have a song with that title.

He did have a song that addressed aging, the folly and wonder of being middle-aged, a song called “45” that he debuted on The Tonight Show in the 1990s and then performed on his 2002 album, When I Was Cruel. He was around that age at that time and found for himself a wealth of metaphors to being 45, from the end of World War II in 1945 (“bells are chiming in victory”), to 45 RPM records and what rock singles meant when he was young: “Bass and treble heal every hurt.” One reviewer, also in his mid 40s, wrote that “45” hit him so hard at the time, “I was shaking at the end” of the song. When I hit 45, I understood this thought about the song and I also understood the song; I also found that I understood the song better than I had the day before, when I was still 44.

The summer of 2014, Costello was turning 60, because math happens, and that phrase—”the last year of my youth”—must have been much on his mind.
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Lindsey Webster at Opus 40

Lindsay Webster is a young jazz singer who is inspiring music writers to stretch for metaphors (“If Carole King and Sade had a kid, she would be Lindsey Webster“) and earned some major awards: in February, she joined Sade as the only performer to land a vocal-driven song atop Billboard magazine’s Smooth Jazz Songs chart. (Most tracks on that chart are instrumentals.)

The song. Fool Me Once,” is indeed terrific; even more terrific is the fact that the singer, who is from Woodstock, NY, shot portions of her music video for it at Opus 40, one of my favorite places on this planet.

Even better, she is performing at Opus 40 tomorrow, Saturday, July 2, at 5:00 p.m. Here are the ticket details: Lindsey Webster at Opus 40.
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A Perfect Day

“You’re going to reap just what you sow.”

“Um, excuse me?”

“You’re going to reap just what you sow.” And he says it three more times.

After deftly sketching some snapshots of a perfect day—a walk in the park, a moment in a zoo, me and you—the speaker/relentless monotone voice in Lou Reed’s song of that same name leaves us with that pushy, inexplicable, and echoing last line.
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‘Space Is the Place’

“Why did you stop playing the sax?” I asked a friend one day. He had been a Bebop player of growing reputation back in the ’50s but ended that career to become a poet.

“It never stopped sounding like a saxophone, no matter what I did,” was his reply. As a writer, he could transform things into words and words into things and essences into essentials, and also none of the above.
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The Confoundin’ Bob Dylan

On February 20, 1991, Bob Dylan (who turns 77 today) was handed a Grammy “Lifetime Achievement Award” by Jack Nicholson. (Will they grant him a second one soon? The man is still working, after all.)

Dylan in 1991 was beginning to receive the oldies act treatment, and he did not appear to enjoy this fact even one little bit. Since 1991: he has released ten albums, the most recent one of which came out on May 20 of this year; has performed a hundred or more live concerts each year on what critics decided to call his “Never-Ending Tour” around 1988; released a dozen box sets from his “bootleg” series; and publish an award-winning volume of his memoirs. Oh! And there are his many paintings and twisted-iron sculptures, some of which he debuted three years ago.
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