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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2013/02/28
by Mike Gruenberg

Short Takes & Long Opinions

In My Life

Led Zeppelin – Undoubtedly, this is one of my favorite bands from the 60’s/70’s and beyond. These guys represented everything in life and music that questioned authority and appealed to young people. We knew they were truly the “bad boys” of rock. The Rolling Stones looked like choir boys compared to these guys. Somehow that image has never left me, so when I recently saw the surviving three members of Led Zep receive Kennedy Center honors; I said to myself, “OK, the very fact that three out of four of them are still alive is reason enough to get the award, not to mention the music”. However, when I saw them in tuxedos accepting the lifetime honor, a part of me just cringed. I know they deserve the honor and I truly continue to appreciate their music, but seeing Jimmy Page in formal attire was a bit much for me. It was like the first time I saw Eric Clapton in a tuxedo at a Grammy awards show a few years ago. Ugh!

Barclay’s Center – In the late 50’s the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team left New York much to the heartbreak and consternation of their fans. Walter O’Malley, the owner of Dodgers knew that Ebbetts Field where the team played was grossly inadequate for future growth and proposed building a new baseball stadium over the rail yards at Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. That was his plan to keep the beloved team in Brooklyn, New York. He was ignored, vilified and much to the dismay of Dodgers’ fans, he said goodbye to New York and hello Los Angeles. He never looked back and made a ton of money on the west coast while the people in Brooklyn mourned the loss of their Dodgers. Many years later, the $1 billion Barclays Center has opened to sell-out crowds for Jay-Z, The Stones and Brooklyn Nets basketball. This is all happening on the very spot that O’Malley suggested that he build a sports complex there over 60 years ago. I guess old Walt wasn’t as dumb as the politicians at that time made him out to be.

The good news is that because of Barclay’s the NY metropolitan area once again has a revitalized music scene. Competition is good! Madison Square Garden in order to effectively compete with the new arena is undergoing a major renovation (much needed). Prudential Center in Newark is booking more acts than ever before (great news) and the Nassau Coliseum (oh well). The point is that the Barclay’s Center is great for New York and Brooklyn and the many music fans that live in the metro NY area. Moreover, people who love to visit the Big Apple have another cool destination. Barclay’s creates a competitive environment that benefits all the people who want to see sports, hear music and see their entertainment heroes. It almost makes me want to move to Brooklyn.

The Eagles – This month on Showtime, I watched a history of the Eagles. Many “rock documentaries” are usually self-serving, fluff pieces that show the highlights of the artists’ career and really don’t delve into the inner workings of the band and their music being profiled. In this presentation, the highlights, low lights, the good, the bad and the ugly is graphically shown. If anything, I have a new found respect for the job that Glen Frey and Don Henley did in forming the band, keeping them together, managing the personnel changes while at the same time writing songs that are the very fabric of rock’n’roll history. Thank you for Hotel California. Thank you for putting Winslow, Arizona on our consciousness. And a hearty thank you to, their manager, Irving Azoff who guided their careers and is an integral reason for the Eagles’ success. If I was a young baseball player, I’d choose Scott Boras as my agent. If I was a musician about to sign a record deal, Irving Azoff is the first guy I would call and plead with him to take me on as a client. He is that good. This documentary is a must-see program.

Record Producers – As far as I’m concerned, the production of a great album or individual song is the result of a multi-layered approach. Musician’s talent is not enough. The Beatles were great, but George Martin was truly the fifth Beatle and took them to heights they probably would not have achieved by themselves. Producers like Phil Spector, Phil Ramone, Glyn Johns, Clive Davis, Larry Marks, etc., are the people who tie it all together. Without them, one wonders if the finished product would be as good as we’ve come to expect. In the Eagles documentary, their first producer Glyn Johns is profiled. Glyn worked with The Who, The Rolling Stone, and Steely Dan, just to name a few. His credentials then and now are impeccable. However, much like a marriage, you never really know the person you’re marrying until you spend large chunks of time together. Apparently, the Eagles and Glyn were not meant to be together although Glyn did produce some of their early albums which were quite good.

The group came upon a guy named Bill Szymczyk who worked with the James Gang and as such was acquainted with Joe Walsh, now a member of the Eagles. Bill’s style was to let the boys play, make sure the sound levels and placement of the microphones were to everyone’s liking and the result was magic. He’s also worked with BB King, Bob Seger, J Geils,The Who, among others He produced Hotel California for the Eagles, enough said.

Quincy Jones – Happy 80th birthday to a musical genius.

Vinyl & CD’s & CD singles – Whenever someone visits my home and sees the LP’s neatly stacked on the shelves and hear the 45’s play on my antique jukebox, they inevitably say that vinyl and CD’s are dead. After all, we now “Tweet”, “Like” on Facebook, “Text” and “Download” music as opposed to buying 12” LP’s, 7” 45’s or CD’s in plastic boxes. Really? Today, record labels are actively supporting vinyl, CD’s and even (hold on) CD singles. Walmart, through their in-store exclusive agreements is selling a ton of CD’s. In March, Walmart will be selling a new Jimi Hendrix album with 12 songs that have never been released before. Barnes & Noble have a vinyl section in their music department.

The point is that the music buying public now has a world of choices of where to buy their music, what media to buy it on how they chose to listen to it. I have never bought music at Wal-Mart and come to think of it, I have rarely been in a Wal-Mart, but now, I’m willing to find one just to see their exclusive music selections. You can teach old dog new tricks.

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