The Basement Vapes, Volume 14: Twin Peeks At Hipsters In (And Out Of) Recovery

Was Strange Weather Marianne Faithfull’s best album and Hal Willner’s finest production? MAGNET’s Mitch Myers defers To André “Records” Richard And 20th Century Jacques.

I was listening to my favorite podcast the other day, a program out of Quebec called Twin Peeks hosted by two insane music buffs, André “Records” Richard and his erstwhile compatriot, 20th Century Jacques. 

On this episode, André was talking a mile a minute about Marianne Faithfull’s 1987 album Strange Weather, which he claimed was her finest recording. 20th Century Jacques countered that Strange Weather was actually Hal Willner’s most successful album production of a single artist—that being Marianne Faithfull.

André and Jacques agreed that Strange Weather defined Ms. Faithfull as a mature, accomplished performer, even more so than her comeback LP from eight years earlier, Broken English. Once again, Jacques credited Faithfull’s achievement to the production work saying, “When I listen to this record, I can hear Hal Willner standing there, eh?”

Jacques pointed out that Faithfull’s classic was something of a conceptual collection, but it stands in contrast to Willner’s star-studded tribute recordings. In this case, it was one artist performing an array of carefully chosen material, as opposed to a rotating cast of different singers showcasing the works of one composer.

Those crazy Canucks know their stuff, and they described how the album was made in NYC when there really was a strange weather brewing: culturally, socially and chemically. There were bohemians everywhere, the downtown music scene was thriving, the Lower East Side boasted artists like Keith Haring and Basquiat, but things were getting darker. The AIDS epidemic was raging and artists were dying. A lot of hipsters were into heroin and cocaine, and it was a time for some reconsideration and recovery. 

According to André, Faithfull put in two stints in rehab for heroin addiction before the recording of Strange Weather. It was not the last time she went into rehab. Mac Rebennack (a.k.a. Dr. John), who played piano on the album, finally cleaned up for good two years later with the help of Narcotics Anonymous, and Willner himself didn’t get completely straight for another decade.

André knew Faithfull’s history leading up to Strange Weather. Born in Hampstead, London, of Austro-Hungarian nobility, she was a descendant of Leopold Sacher-Masoch, whose erotic novel Venus In Furs spawned the term masochism. Discovered by rock impresario Andrew Loog Oldham in 1964 at a party for the Rolling Stones, she soon—at age 17—had a hit single with “As Tears Go By,” written by Oldham, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. 

Faithfull married in 1965 and had a son, only to be divorced a year later after starting an affair with Jagger. The famous pair soon lived in swinging London while she acted in fab films and made albums of traditional folk and pop covers. She stayed involved with Jagger and the Stones for the balance of the decade, including a notorious drug bust and the ensuing scandal. Faithfull also had a miscarriage and developed a cocaine addiction. After the romance with Jagger ended, she lost custody of her son and attempted suicide. 

The 1970s saw Faithfull become anorexic, homeless and addicted to heroin. Laryngitis and substance abuse weathered and lowered the register her voice. She made a country-rock album but had little success or real direction until 1979, when she released the acclaimed Broken English on Island Records. The album was a powerful, rebellious personal statement, angry politically and sexually, and a near-total dismissal of her previous pop persona. 

Showcasing her roughed-up rasp and mining the new-wave fad with rock production and electronics, Broken English boasted a punk-driven industrial throb—and Faithfull was the dissolute dance-floor diva. It was a resounding comeback but all was not well. André recalled that Faithfull was on her second marriage, still using heroin and gave a feeble performance on Saturday Night Live in February 1980. Of course, 20th Century Jacques felt compelled to remind André, “That’s the same year Willner started working at SNL, too, eh?”

Faithfull made another album for Island, Dangerous Acquaintances, but the record was less distinctive than its predecessor. She moved to New York City, continued to stay high, broke her jaw falling on some stairs and had another medical emergency where her heart stopped. A third Island album, A Child’s Adventure, was cobbled together with a different producer, but finally in 1985, she received treatment at two drug rehab facilities. It was also the year that Willner asked her to appear on an album he was putting together: Lost In The Stars: The Music Of Kurt Weill.

Continue reading “The Basement Vapes, Volume 14: Twin Peeks At Hipsters In (And Out Of) Recovery”

The Basement Vapes, Volume 13: Take It From Me, Someday We’ll All Be Free

Donny Hathaway sang his greatest song in 1973. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers explains how a personal message of hope and encouragement became an indestructible black anthem. 

The late Donny Hathaway reached a true pinnacle with his recording of “Someday We’ll All Be Free.” High praise, to be sure, since Hathaway’s career had many great musical moments. Still, this particular song stands out. It’s so compassionate, so inclusive and so uplifting that it’s now understood as transformative and inspirational beyond context. Not only was it Hathaway’s own finest hour, but the song has become an enduring message of perseverance delivered by many a heartfelt artist over the decades.

Born in Chicago and raised in St. Louis, Hathaway was a prodigy who, by the age of four, was known as Little Donnie Pitts (“the nation’s youngest gospel singer”). In 1964, he earned a fine-arts scholarship and studied music at Howard University, where he began a friendship with classmate Roberta Flack. He also met Curtis Mayfield when the Impressions performed at the college. Soon after, Hathaway left school and moved to Chicago, where he thrived as a staff producer/arranger for Mayfield’s newly formed Curtom label.

The civil-rights movement was growing and Curtom was an example of black entrepreneurship and activism within the Chicago music business. For a time, Hathaway was an important part of Mayfield’s team and Curtom’s sound. A gifted musician and songwriter, he also often freelanced for other record labels. But it was inevitable that Hathaway would make his own recordings.  

Thanks to musician/producer King Curtis, Hathaway signed a recording contract with Atlantic imprint ATCO in 1970. Over the next three years, he released three fascinating studio albums, a highly acclaimed live recording and a celebrated duet album with Flack. 

Hathaway was a poised auteur on par with geniuses like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, and his solo work revealed both great maturity and great promise. He was a skilled keyboardist with a superb voice and a range of compositional abilities. His bold soul sound was often sanctified gospel, showcasing jazz and classical elements as well. He wrote passionately about love, God and black life, and he inhabited familiar pop tunes with fresh insight and enthusiasm. 

Hathaway’s recording career was limited but still showcased many treasures. His romantic duets with Flack like “Where Is The Love” and “The Closer I Get To You” became huge hits. His interpretation of Nina Simone’s “To Be Young, Gifted And Black” rivals her version, and his take on Leon Russell’s “A Song For You” is even better than the original. Hathaway’s own songs often spoke of adversity, identity and faith, with authentic commentary like “Voices Inside (Everything Is Everything),” “The Ghetto,” “Tryin’ Times” and “Little Ghetto Boy.” Even holiday tune “This Christmas” remains a perennial. 

Donny Hathaway “Someday We’ll All Be Free

Hathaway was as confident onstage as he was in the studio. 1972 ‘s Live was recorded at the Troubadour in Los Angeles and The Bitter End in NYC. Opening with Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” and including songs by Carole King and John Lennon as well as his own material, Hathaway revealed himself to be an expressive gospel/soul singer and performer. 

Although he was productive in the early ’70s, Hathaway struggled with severe depression. He was married with children but also had a closeted gay life, which burdened him greatly. Despite this, 1973’s Extension Of A Man still contained hopeful moments, particularly “Someday We’ll All Be Free.” It was right around this time Hathaway was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, and an associate named Edward Howard wrote the song lyrics as a personal message of encouragement to his dear friend. 

Hang on to the world as it spins around
Just don’t let the spin get you down
Things are moving fast
Hold on tight and you will last
Keep your self-respect, your manly pride
Get yourself in gear
Keep your stride
Never mind your fears
Brighter days will soon be here
Take it from me, someday we’ll all be free

Arif Mardin, part of Ahmet Ertegun’s “Turkish mafia” at Atlantic, produced the classic track. Hathaway wrote and arranged the music, and it opens with his celestial-sounding Fender Rhodes piano. Joining him was a small group: guitarists Cornell Dupree and David Spinozza, bassist Willie Weeks, drummer Ray Lucas and trumpeter Marvin Stamm. From the start, Hathaway’s soaring vocal transports us. Strings and horns enter and swell, and Stamm plays an elegant solo before Hathaway lifts his voice and sings the final inspiring verse. They say Hathaway wept when he heard the final mix of his recording. Who could blame him?  

Keep on walking tall
Hold your head up high
Lay your dreams right up to the sky
Sing your greatest song
And you’ll keep going, going on
Take it from me, someday we’ll all be free
Hey, just wait and see, some day we’ll all be free, yeah
Take it from me, someday we’ll all be free
It won’t be long, take it from me, someday we’ll all be free
Take it from me, take it from me, take it from me

Sadly, Hathaway’s mental-health problems continued, and he never made another solo album. He had difficulty staying on his medications and was shuttled in and out of psychiatric institutions. He performed only occasionally in small clubs, and his career floundered. As he suffered from delusions and hallucinations, his personal life unraveled. Hathaway’s behavior in the studio was so unsettling that he lost his close rapport with Flack for years. 

Alicia Keyes “Someday We’ll All Be Free”

By 1979, Hathaway and Flack had reconciled. They were making their second duet album, and Hathaway traveled to Manhattan for sessions with producers Eric Mercury and James Mtume. Hathaway began behaving erratically in the recording studio on January 13. Mtume spoke to him and saw that he was paranoid and extremely delusional. Mercury agreed that Hathaway was in no shape to continue and cancelled the session, sending everybody home. 

It was a Saturday, and Hathaway dined with Flack at her Central Park apartment. Soon after returning to the Essex House hotel, Hathaway plunged to his death from his 15th floor balcony. There had been no visitors, his door was bolted from the inside, and the authorities deemed it a suicide. Besides the psychosis, he was estranged from his wife, and his confusion around his sexuality had worsened his depression. Rev. Jesse Jackson presided over his funeral. Hathaway was 33 years old.

“Someday We’ll All Be Free” may have been Hathaway’s swan song, but the relevance of this inspirational communiqué has only grown stronger over time, evolving from a personal message of hope into an indestructible anthem of encouragement and deliverance. It also speaks to black life like few other songs. Although it was not written as such, the tune became associated with the civil-rights movement. In a sage move, Spike Lee used a stirring version sung by Aretha Franklin at the dramatic conclusion of his 1992 film Malcolm X.

Contemporary culture continues to respond to the song’s poignancy. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, Alicia Keyes gave a moving interpretation on the telethon America: A Tribute To Heroes. The phrase has appeared as the title of a book as well as magazine articles and radio programs. There are many heartfelt interpretations by all sorts of talented musicians.

The song’s dramatic import has more recently been enlisted on television, as Hathaway’s version was used to wrap up a couple of very different season finales. It appeared in The Chi during the season-two finale (“The Scorpion And The Frog”), and it was wonderfully utilized on The Walking Dead at the end of season seven (“The First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life”). The sad commentary on that episode is that the entire song is used to frame a montage in which long-running character Sasha reviews her bittersweet existence as she takes her own life. 

Clearly, the hopeful song has endured, however retrofitted these themes may be. It certainly intersects with our current events and the Black Lives Matter movement, and it can mean something to everyone in the most positive of terms. Donny Hathaway took his own life, but he gave us something that still remains inspirational to hang on to.

The Walking Dead‘s Sasha’s Tribute

Sasha had her reasons, but if you or someone you know is in emotional distress or having a suicidal crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

The Basement Vapes, Volume 12: Friendless Summer Playlist—Recommended If You Like … Wilson!

In a cast-away world without desert-island discs and no Beach Boys to lean on, MAGNET’s Mitch Myers unearths sunken treasures and lost pet sounds to add some music to your day.  

Not sure about the beach this summer? Hopefully, you’ll figure it out. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of making use of the things around you. And no excuses! Just remember poor Tom Hanks and his resourceful character Chuck Noland in the 2000 movie Cast Away. Surviving is tough when you’re forced to make do with what you can salvage on your own, but it can be done.

For example, what if you were stranded somewhere remote without your beloved desert-island discs? Let’s just say that you had absolutely no access to anything by the Beach Boys. No Pet Sounds, no Smile sessions, no “Fun, Fun, Fun.” Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Could you still manage to sort out some good vibrations? I think we all know the world can be a lonely place without your pal Wilson.

Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys have permeated our world for six decades, but there are also forgotten treasures from recording artists who’ve been influenced by Wilson and Co. The group’s iconic sound has been frequently emulated with its the grand arrangements, sumptuous harmonies, layered vocals, luminous melodies, emotive orchestrations and occasional shoreline aesthetics. 

The Beach Boys begin generating ubiquitous hit singles in the early ’60s with surf and car tunes. Then came California sagas and symphonic sandbox celebrations fusing high-concept artistry, pop-savant introspections and quaint American sock-hop psychedelia with pristine sound production and lavish studio wizardry. From the beginning, unknown singers, industry producers and staff arrangers were duly inspired by Wilson’s eccentric genius and crafted their own musical offerings. To this point, we here at MAGNET have assembled some tracks to compensate for the hypothetical lack of Beach Boys songs: a Friendless Summer Playlist, if you will. So, let the games begin by saying the name … Wilson! 

Mark Eric “Where Do the Girls Of The Summer Go?” (1969)

Mark Eric Maimborg was a good-looking Los Angeles kid who stumbled into Hollywood as a musician and songwriter and later worked as an actor. His one album, A Midsummer’s Day Dream, came out in 1969 and revealed a profound Beach Boys influence with a splash of Bacharach. Maimborg’s winsome voice was limited but well suited for his yearning, Wilson-esque reveries, while dreamy orchestral arrangements for strings and horns help sustain the season-ending fantasia of “Where Do The Girls Of The Summer Go?” Where indeed.

Sagittarius “My World Fell Down” (1968)

Sagittarius was a 1968 project conceived by L.A. producer/musician Gary Usher, who’d co-written songs with Brian Wilson including “In My Room.” On “My World Fell Down,” Usher was abetted by the talented Curt Boettcher along with actual Beach Boy Bruce Johnston, producer/party boy Terry Melcher and Glen Campbell, who toured as a Beach Boy and sings lead here. The song even has Wrecking Crew kingpin Hal Blaine on drums. It represents an essential achievement in West Coast pop/psychedelia, sounding like a perfect cross between the Mamas And The Papas and “Good Vibrations”-era Beach Boys. While the Sagittarius musicians were individually responsible for much of the California sound at the time, it took them all working together on this one song to approximate Wilson’s artistry.

Billy Nicholls “Would You Believe” (1968)

Much like Maimborg, British singer Billy Nicholls got into the music business at a very young age. Gaining some attention, he garnered a quick record deal with rock impresario Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate label. Oldham—a huge fan of both Phil Spector and Brian Wilson—served as the record’s producer and encouraged Nicholls to indulge his California-fueled music fantasies. Would You Believe was recorded in 1968 with U.K. musicians including Small Faces singer Stevie Marriott, and its title track boasts a Beach Boys-styled arrangement re-imagined by British fanatics who threw everything they could into the mix. 

Modern Folk Quartet “This Could Be The Night” (1965)

Brian Wilson “This Could Be The Night” (1995)

Young Harry Nilsson wrote “This Could Be The Night” as a tribute to Brian Wilson in late 1965. Performed by the Modern Folk Quartet and produced by Wilson’s personal hero Phil Spector, this buoyant performance is both an homage to the budding Beach Boys vibe and a template for the “wall of sound” that they, too, would use in the future. Not surprising since Wilson was at the original recording session at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood and adored the song. Thirty years later, he finally recorded it himself on tribute album For The Love Of Harry: Everybody Sings Nilsson. Both versions are sweet and vulnerable, but which track sounds more like the Beach Boys?

Yellow Balloon “Yellow Balloon” (1967)

Another example of ’60s Hollywood in action, Yellow Balloon was the brainchild of producer Gary Zekley and musician Don Grady, a former Mouseketeer best known for the television series My Three Sons. Grady later made a fascinating solo record as Don Agrati, but Yellow Balloon was a prime example of the Wilson-ian “sunshine pop” movement in Southern California. The song starts out a little lightweight, but it reaches an inspired a cappella middle section in Beach Boys choir fashion replete with falsetto, so you have to consider this mission accomplished. 

Gary Usher “Friends” (1970)

High Llamas “Hawaiian Smile” (1996)

Previously titled Add Some Music To Your Day, Smile For Me: A Symphonic Tribute To Brian Wilson was “produced, conducted and arranged by Gary Usher.” Performed in 1970 with the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra, Usher’s concept LP was one step away from elevator music but still ahead of the curve. Moreover, there’s no denying Usher’s grasp of Wilson’s harmonic sophistication, and the beauty contained therein. A quarter century later, Sean O’Hagan of the High Llamas was happily mining related terrain, creating his own ornate universe with bittersweet melodies that harkened back to Wilson’s collaborations with Van Dyke Parks à la Smile. How could you not?

California Music “Jamaica Farewell” (1976)

“Sloop John B,” anyone? That traditional Bahamian folk song had been around since the early 1900s and was performed by the Weavers and the Kingston Trio before Beach Boy Al Jardine convinced Brian Wilson that it would work with their group harmonies. A similar sounding West Indies ditty called “Jamaica Farewell” was recorded by Harry Belafonte in 1957 and had a lesser but comparable trajectory. Vocal group California Music was basically another studio project helmed by Boettcher along with his pals Melcher and Usher. The song was recorded in 1976 when these nostalgic West Coast music veterans put their heads together to craft a reasonable facsimile of their master’s voice one more time. 

Brian Wilson “One For The Boys” (1988)

It’s probably safe to say that nobody misses the Beach Boys as much as Brian Wilson. “One For The Boys” was from Wilson’s first solo album in 1988 with assistance from engineer/musician Andy Paley. The original title was “There We Were,” and just like some of the old recordings by the Beach Boys, this wordless a cappella features Brian doing all of the vocal lines himself. Still, I imagine he would rather have been singing harmony alongside his dear brothers Carl and Dennis, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and Mike Love. Don’t you?

BONUS TRACKS                                                                                    

John Cale “Mr. Wilson”( 1975)

All sorts of creative elites were down with the Beach Boys back in the day. Former Velvet Underground member John Cale made a point of singing Brian Wilson’s praises on his dark and powerful solo LP from 1975, Slow Dazzle. The song “Mr. Wilson” was a straightforward fan letter from Cale that also remembered not to skimp on the angelic backing vocals. He closes out the earnest paean intoning dryly, “California wine tastes fine.” 

Todd Rundgren “Good Vibrations” (1976)

In 1976, the multi-talented Todd Rundgren released his wonderful Faithful album, which included six classic rock tunes that he had re-created quite, well, faithfully. Besides covering all-stars like the Beatles, Yardbirds, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan, Rundgren chose to tackle the Beach Boys’ shining moment, “Good Vibrations.” Rather than trying to improve on perfection, Todd’s sonic imitation of this amazing song is simply letter-perfect. What better endorsement than the sincerest form of flattery? 

The Basement Vapes, Volume 11: Public Service Announcement—Blues Run The Game

MAGNET’s Mitch Myers rouses himself for the greater good and remembers Jackson C. Frank’s secret handshake, Nick Drake, the early British folk scene, Paul Simon’s upbeat culpability and more.

I hate to be a downer, but it has always been so. It’s like I made a moody mix-tape for my college girlfriend decades ago and never came back. A bad case of the blues? Probably. Everybody’s got them, and apparently the only thing to do is get back to work and do my part. So then, let us consider that sad old song by Jackson C. Frank entitled “Blues Run The Game.” 

Born in Buffalo on March 2, 1943, Jackson C. Frank was no stranger to sadness. He survived a terrible school fire at the age of 11 where some classmates perished, and the tragedy left him scarred physically and emotionally. His life would continue to be painful and littered with misfortune, but as a young man, Frank took the money he’d received in settlement for the fire and boarded an ocean liner to England. There, he ingratiated himself into the burgeoning folk scene of the mid-1960s alongside rising local performers like Bert Jansch, Al Stewart and Sandy Denny, as well as another visiting American bard named Paul Simon. 

Within most folk-music circles, the main currency is either the singer or the song, and the U.K. folk scene was no exception. In a gesture of authenticity, some artists revived traditional folk songs of the British Isles. Vintage tunes like “Blackwaterside” and “She Moved Through The Fair” became part of many a folk singer’s repertoire. 17th Century ballad “Scarborough Fair” certainly passed though many hands. Singers Ewan MacColl, Shirley Collins and even Marianne Faithful all recorded the tune before Paul Simon nipped the song arrangement from guitarist Martin Carthy and made it his own. 

Besides the new traditionalists, an advanced breed of singer/songwriters was emerging. Woody Guthrie protégé Ramblin’ Jack Elliott had long been familiar across England, but it was the time for Bob Dylan and his ilk to inspire. Somewhere between the traditional adaptations and the Dylan influences, strong original songwriting had finally become a premium among British folkies. Enter Jackson C. Frank and his aching lament, “Blues Run The Game,” a wandering troubadour’s song if there ever was one. For folk singers back then, performing your own version of this wistful tune was like knowing a secret handshake.

Catch a boat to England, baby/Maybe to Spain/Wherever I have gone/Wherever I’ve been and gone/Wherever I have gone/The blues are all the same

Frank recorded “Blues Run The Game” in 1965 as the opening track for his eponymous solo album, which was produced by Simon while the two were both living in England. Frank was insecure in the recording studio at age 22, yet his emotive voice and reflective songwriting carried the day. An autobiographical and uniquely personal meditation, the song conveyed a sense of searching, yearning and sadness—with lyrics that felt etched in stone. Other folk singers were immediately attracted to the timeless song, which could have been written yesterday or 100 years ago.

Frank’s melancholy style resonated with the U.K. folkies. Singer Al Stewart accompanied him in the recording studio that day along with producer Simon; Garfunkel was there, too. Frank dated British singer Sandy Denny at the beginning of her career, and she performed several of his compositions. Guitarist John Renbourn was a friend and admirer, as was his Pentangle bandmate, Scottish singer/guitarist Bert Jansch. In 1995, three decades on, Jansch was captured live, still performing the ballad to great effect. His sterling guitar work and pinched, world-weary voice suited the song’s poignant nature, and it remained in Jansch’s set list until his passing in 2011.

Send out for whiskey, baby/Send out for gin/Me and room service, honey/Me and room service, babe/Me and room service/Well we’re living a life of sin

The tragic nature of Frank’s life was complicated by mental illness. Disintegrating slowly, he went back to America, briefly returned to the U.K. and toured alongside the Fairport Convention, and finally retreated to Woodstock. Over the years, he was married, divorced, institutionalized, struggled with alcoholism, became homeless, destitute and obese. He even lost an eye to some kid with an air rifle before he died in 1999 at the age of 56. More recently, his talents and troubles led him to be remembered as a tortured artist cult-figure. His doomed mystique wasn’t romantic as that of someone like Nick Drake, but there is a new documentary about Frank in the works nonetheless.   

Regarding Drake, there’s no doubt that the forlorn, posthumously acclaimed poet laureate of British folk was a devotee of Jackson C. Frank. Before Drake released his first album, Five Leaves Left, in 1969, he made a series of home tapes, demos and private recordings. These early tapes were ultimately released on CD compilation Family Tree, and include young Drake singing a total of four songs written by Frank: “Kimbie,” “Milk And Honey,” “Here Come The Blues” and, of course, “Blues Run The Game.” 

When I’m not drinkin’, baby/You are on my mind/When I’m not sleepin’, honey/When I ain’t sleepin’\, mama/When I’m not sleepin’/You know you’ll find me cryin

Both Jansch and Drake’s renditions of “Blues Run The Game” contain the requisite amount of melancholy, Not so with Simon & Garfunkel, who performed it during a 1965 recording session for their Sounds Of Silence album. That track wasn’t included on the original vinyl LP, but the outtake appeared years later on the CD reissue as well as their Old Friends boxed set. While Simon grasped the tune’s affective power and major-chord craftsmanship, the upbeat culpability of S&G’s gentle harmonies actually make this sorrowful song of resignation feel less gloomy. 

Try another city baby
Another town
Wherever I have gone
Wherever I’ve been and gone
Wherever I have gone
The blues come followin’ down

The confluence of English and American folk music in the 1960s was reflected by the ubiquity of this tune, and like the song says, the blues can follow you anywhere. Hence the inherent ennui that can be found on the late New Zealand-born French singer Graeme Allwright’s 1968 recording, “Je Perds Ou Bien Je Gagne.” Allwright was well known in France during the ’60s and ’70s for his interpretations of songs by artists like Dylan, Cohen, Tom Paxton and Pete Seeger, in addition to Frank (all righteous songwriters to be sure), and Allwright’s tender French version of “Blues Run The Game” has that certain je ne sais quoi, wouldn’t you say?

Livin’ is a gamble, baby
Lovin’s much the same
Wherever I have played
Whenever I’ve thrown them dice
Wherever I have played
The blues have run the game

Pop culture has caught up Frank’s bittersweet muse. In recent years “Blues Run The Game” has been used in This Is Us, Robert Redford film The Old Man & The Gun and a documentary entitled The Vietnam War. Another stark Frank composition, “My Name Is Carnival” was in the films Joker, Calvary and Catch Me Daddy. Contemporary performers like Counting Crowes, John Mayer, Laura Marling, Colin Meloy (Decembrists) and Robin Pecknold (Fleet Foxes) have all covered “Blues Run The Game,” but their well-sung versions aren’t nearly sad enough for my somber taste. Like Charles Bukowski used to say, these folks sound like they never even had a toothache. 

Maybe tomorrow honey
Some place down the line
I’ll wake up older
So much older mama
I’ll wake up older
And I’ll just stop all my trying

A semi-disastrous performance by Mark Lanegan is more interesting. Hailing from the Pacific Northwest and a weathered survivor of the ’80s/’90s grunge-rock craze, Lanegan clearly has that depressive gene in his DNA. Although he recorded a studio version with the Soulsavers production team, this ragged live rendition better captures the true spirit of the song. It starts out suitably downtrodden, but one of the guitar amps starts screeching feedback and brings the show to a halt. Encouraged to start over he cautiously demurs. “Life’s very fragile,” says Lanegan. Finally, he starts up again in the middle of the song, playing with even greater focus and conviction. And that’s what it’s all about.

Catch a boat to England, baby/Maybe to Spain/Wherever I have gone/Wherever I’ve been and gone/Wherever I have gone/The blues are all the same

Bonus Track
Here’s an episode of forgotten BBC radio program My Kind Of Folk from November 1968, hosted by Frank. Sharing the program with the Young Tradition and a tune from supporting guitarist Chris Hardy, Frank plays a total of five songs, opening the show with “Blues Run The Game” and closing with “My Name Is Carnival.” Of equal note are Frank’s telling confessional performances of “Golden Mirror” and “I Want To Be Alone.”

The Basement Crepes (Breakfast Special): The Wakenbake Café Needs Your Help!

MAGNET’s Mitch Myers keeps the funny side up with a Jerry Garcia photo contest in Marin County                                    

Sad news for hungry Deadheads in Northern California, as the old Wakenbake Café in San Rafael will be closing down next month after 40 years of catering to their longtime hippie clientele and other loyal customers.

Despite well-meaning community efforts that included a citywide petition and GoFundMe campaigns in support of the endangered café, the end is officially in sight. Adding insult to injury, reports indicate the beloved eatery is slated to become a Pinkberry in the fall.

The other news here is that Wakenbake owner/manager Adam Coil will be parting with his unique collection of previously unseen photographs of Jerry Garcia. Apparently, the guitarist had consented to these portraitures over the years in exchange for a lifetime of complimentary breakfast specials. Coil regrets that he never bothered to date his headshots of the Grateful Dead frontman (inspired by a 1973 Rolling Stone cover), but the café owner believes the photos were mostly taken in the years between 1974 and 1992. 

So, the Wakenbake Café is now calling on all Deadheads to please help date these long-forgotten Garcia images before they are put up for auction. Title suggestions are welcome. So let the sunshine daydreams begin!

All photos courtesy of Adam Coil. © Adam Coil