2020 at End: I Tried to Be Positive. Honest

As this is my last entry for 2020, I had planned to make it somewhat more, well, positive than many of the things I’ve written of late. Seems that for the past several months I’ve been writing about the consequences of COVID-19 on our music and our lives, and very little of that has had a proverbial silver lining. Then in the months before that it appeared that I had become the official Glorious Noise obituary writer, a dubious distinction at most.

But then I learned that Leslie West had died. I will confess that I am not a fan of Mountain, that I never found “Mississippi Queen” to be particularly engaging. It sounds to me like a variant on something that Lynyrd Skynyrd might have done. Or perhaps Def Leppard. Whereas the former are from Jacksonville, Florida, and the latter from Sheffield, England, West was born in New York City and was raised in Hackensack, New Jersey. Go figure.

The little interest that I had in Mountain was a result of the participation of Felix Pappalardi, whose name was familiar to me from his production work on Cream’s Disraeli Gears, as I was—and continue to be, albeit with a different fervor—a big fan of Cream. So if Pappalardi worked with West, it had to be worthwhile. But that didn’t really work in my estimation, even though I was arguably predisposed to like the band.

Of the members of Cream it was—and continues to be—Jack Bruce for me. He was one of the most innovative and accomplished bass players of the 20th century, and if you do an eye roll and think of “Sunshine of Your Love,” I suggest you give a listen to “You Burned the Tables on Me” from his third solo album, Harmony Row, or the work that he did with Kip Hanrahan. Then your eyes may open wide.

One of Mountain’s minor hits (or I guess for it the adjective can be removed) is “Theme for an Imaginary Western,” a cover of a song written by Jack Bruce and Pete Brown, which originally appears on Songs for a Tailor, Bruce’s first post-Cream solo album—produced by Pappalardi.

Pappalardi left Mountain and was replaced on bass and vocals by. . .Jack Bruce. Or at least a newly named band was created in 1972, West, Bruce and Laing. (Corky Laing played drums in Mountain, so the band wasn’t too far away from the original.)

In my estimation this was one of the bad choices that Bruce had made in his career, but presumably he was looking for a revenue stream. What is odd is if you listen to the solo album that Jack Bruce released after leaving West, Bruce and Laing, Out of the Storm, you’ll undoubtedly conclude that Bruce’s talent was wasted playing with West. (When Bruce went out on tour in support of that solo album, he enlisted Mick Taylor to play guitar: that is more of a balance of talent.)

Bruce formed the Jack Bruce Band and Jack Bruce & Friends during the 70s and 80s, but ended up collaborating with Robin Trower on two albums, B.L.T. (presumably that would be for Bruce, Bill Lordan (drums) and Trower; it is interesting to note that on the cover of the album, the font size for Trower’s name is significantly bigger than the other two) and Truce (in this case, Lordan was gone and just Bruce’s and Trower’s names appear on the sleeve, in the same font size). As for these two records, even though Trower, a remarkably capable guitar player, is a good foil for Bruce, they strike me as being somewhat mediocre.

Bruce became something of an itinerate musician, playing with all manner of musicians, some good, some questionable. He died of liver disease in 2014.

Pappalardi? He died of a gunshot wound in 1983. His wife was convicted of negligent homicide.

Of the two more famous musicians that he played with: Ginger Baker died in 2019 (Bruce and Baker collaborated in a band with guitar player Gary Moore—BBM—which released an album, Around the Next Dream, which for some odd reason features a picture of Baker smoking a cigarette (naturally) and wearing angel’s wings: Clapton is god but Baker is a seraph?); Clapton is still with us.

Which brings me to the positive subject that I’d planned to write about, the Save Our Stages Act, which is a $15-billion part of the coronavirus relief package passed by Congress. One of the main sponsors of the bipartisan bill is Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota—she worked with Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a stalwart Republican and evident music fan. On December 21 she took to the Senate floor and stated, “And this was about — yes, Nashville and New York, but it was just as much about the Fargo Theatre or a small small country music venue in Texas. And while we see the light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccines, we know that it will be quite a while before these businesses which operate on such thin margins as it is can keep going.”

The bill allows the Small Business Administration to create grants that will allow the recipients to cover six months of their expenses.

Klobuchar: “The grants can be used to cover all the major costs the venues have to pay to stay in business including rent and mortgage utilities, employee wages, key benefits, maintenance costs, state and local taxes, payments to contractors, purchases of protective equipment.

“Venues that are at the greatest risk of closing, and sadly, we’ve already lost a number of our venues will have priority access to the majority of the grant funding. All venues will be able to apply within four weeks of the program’s launch with the Small Business Administration. But in the first two weeks, those venues that have suffered 90 percent revenue loss over the year before will be the first to be able to apply for these grants. So, we don’t want to be in Congress to let the music die and we don’t want that to happen to any of our other places of culture in America either.”

And Donald Trump left for Mar-a-Lago without signing the bill. It is not clear whether it will be passed.

So much for that joy. Those stages’ fate is still in perilous doubt.

Which brings me back to Clapton.

So far (as of December 26, 2020), there are more than 70,000 deaths in the U.K. from COVID-19. To put that number into context, know that according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, based on the number of deaths per 100,000 population, the United Kingdom has the third worst rate, behind Italy and Spain, just ahead of the U.S.

Clapton is collaborating with Van Morrison. Morrison has become anti-lockdown, creating the “Save Live Music” campaign, conceptually laudable, functionally despicable. In the past several months he has released “Born To Be Free,” “As I Walked Out” and “No More Lockdown,” titles that have more than a whiff of the fascist about them, though he accuses the government of being fascist in its efforts to keep more Brits alive. Consider: Does anyone think that Boris Johnson would be in the least bit interested in tanking the British economy if there were the slightest possibility that even with a few–or more than a few–cut corners things could be for the better?

And Clapton has joined Morrison on a fourth, “Stand and Deliver,” in which Slowhand sings, “Do you wanna be a free man/Or do you wanna be a slave?” It is surprising only that Rudy Giuliani isn’t on backup vocals.

Of his participation in this, Clapton told Variety, “There are many of us who support Van and his endeavors to save live music; he is an inspiration.” He added, “We must stand up and be counted because we need to find a way out of this mess. The alternative is not worth thinking about. Live music might never recover.”

Somehow demanding that people have the right to cause other people to become infected and possibly die doesn’t sound like “freedom”; it sounds like criminal selfishness. Those people will never recover, no “might” about it.

And as for live music in the U.K., perhaps Van and Eric ought to spend some time pursuing the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics website, which has it, based on data up to date on 24 December 2020: “Over the most recent week, the percentage of people testing positive has continued to increase sharply in London, the East of England, and the South East; London now has the highest percentage of people testing positive.”

London leads the nation in infection rates; according to the Greater London Authority, as of 24 December there were 7,897 deaths in London hospitals as a result of the virus, more than 10% of the U.K.’s total.

“No More Lockdown”? Somehow I think that the women and men who are working in those London hospitals might have a different perspective on the need for simple social distancing, one that Van and Eric clearly don’t support.

Morrison may be more interested in Northern Ireland than London. How are things there? Well, according to the Office for National Statistics (again as of 24 December): “The percentage testing positive in Northern Ireland has increased in the most recent week; during the most recent week (12 to 18 December 2020), we estimate that 10,100 people in Northern Ireland had COVID-19 (95% credible interval: 6,100 to 14,900), equating to around 1 in 180 people (95% credible interval: 1 in 300 to 1 in 125).”

Odds are there isn’t a whole lot of “Stand[ing] and Deliver[ing]” when you’re flat on your back intubated in an over-crowded hospital.

Maybe those two ought to drop some songs about the stalwarts in the National Health Services.

Here’s hoping for a healthy—and sane—2021.


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