Don’t wish it away
Don’t look at it like it’s forever
from Elton John’s “That’s Why They Call It the Blues”
lyrics by Bernie Taupin
photographed september 4, 2020
George Harrison is a special soul.
Forty-nine years ago, August 1, 1971. The Concert for Bangladesh. In reality, two concerts. Performed to raise awareness, and funds for relief, of refugees caught up in the war in Bangladesh.
Earlier that year, Ravi Shankar, an Indian musician and friend to George, told him about the desperation in Bangladesh and asked George to help. The short of it is George said okay. A couple of months went by without a real plan, but another five or six weeks and George pulled together his friends, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, Ringo Star, and the band Badfinger, and Ravi Shankar recruited another Indian musician, Ali Akbar Khan, and they all performed at Madison Square Garden on the first day of August.
The back story covers a lot of musical history, and intersects the lives of some well-known and talented people. In 1961, George was 18 and performing in Germany with an early pre-Ringo version of The Beatles. Fast forward ten years, the musical group called The Beatles exploded into THE BEATLES and took over the world, until the individual Beatles went their separate ways in 1970. George was more and more interested in spirituality and eastern philosophies and music traditions, and was evolving musically to bring these influences into his craft. By 1971, he had his own solo albums and was producing the soundtrack for Raga, a documentary film on Shankar. Nevertheless, he hadn’t performed on stage as a solo act yet.
That summer, George was 28 and organizing in my memory one of the first big, really big, aid concerts in modern history. Dealing with the venue, performers, filming, recordings, the tax man, and everything else that’s involved in planning an event like this, with the goal (and determination) to get the money to where it was needed, in Bangladesh, and not everywhere in between.
So. Picture this. The end of the concert. George at the microphone. The master of ceremonies. The other performers were done. Clapton was dealing with some serious addiction issues and barely made it through his bit with George. And George didn’t know at this point if Dylan would perform. The day before, Dylan told George he was too nervous. About the crowd. For every one of us who’s stumbled over our own words because looking out at faces brings on brain freeze, there’s the idea of a nervous Bob Dylan. Are we all human or what? Bob Dylan, yes THE Bob Dylan, was nervous about the crowd and not sure he could perform. Whatever was happening in his life, he hadn’t really performed in concert for a number of years, and wasn’t sure he could do it. Why does this awkward little detail appeal to me?
George looked around the darkened stage, bright lights in his eyes, to see if the big act would come out and sing.
And yes, Bob Dylan was the big act. There was in fact a question mark next to his name on the concert playlist. What was George thinking during that flash of a minute? It must have been something like, “Oh shit, what am I doing here?” I haven’t seen that quote, but what else would be going through his head?
Then, yes … there he was. Bob Dylan. To paraphrase George’s description, his denim jacket, his harmonica, and his guitar. Dylan looked young and uncomfortable, but the music started. It was A Hard Rain’s A-gonna Fall, and he knew his song well.
Forty-nine years ago.
the fest for beatles fans
snf your beatles station
When rain has
hung the leaves with tears,
I want you near
to kill my fears,
to help me to leave all my blues behind.
in your heart is where
I want to be
and long to be.
Ah, but I may as well try and catch the wind
~ Catch the Wind, Donovan ~
photographed june 20, 2020
somewhere over the rainbow
way up high
there’s a land that I heard of
once in a lullaby
~ ~ ~ ~
Over the Rainbow, Judy Garland
composed by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Yip Harburg
written for Wizard of Oz
photographed sometime in summer 2019
photographed summer 2018
your voice is soft
like summer rain
– Jolene, Dolly Parton –
~ ~ ~ ~
photographed june 20, 2020
It looks like these trees and this brush are endless. Sometimes I feel that way too. But they’re not.
I was hunched over, trying to get a picture of the flowers and the green and a bit of the sunlight still coming through. It was getting close to eight, and there was a towhee doing what towhees always do at sundown. It was ‘drink your tea’ time. They sing those notes over and over, part of the evening ritual.
But this time there was music too. Human type music. Past all the green, up a hill, there was a house and the glow of flames in a fire pit, and somebody was out back. None of my business, but how could I not notice? He was playing folksy music, and it sounded so good I wanted to yell, “Hey, what’s that you’re playing?” Of course I didn’t. I thought it was somebody sitting by the firepit playing a guitar or banjo, and singing one of those folk songs that feel like springtime, and good times, and flowers in a field. Eventually I realized the music was too good, it must have been a recording.
I didn’t want to move on, but I started walking slowly along the path, around a bend, and the music playing behind me faded in the distance, past the trees.
Photographed May 29, 2020
Summertime, the song.
And Janis Joplin. Yes, in the crazy summer of 2020, it has to be Janis Joplin. It’s an old (1934) Gershwin song, covered over and over, so there are lots of versions out there. I don’t know if it’s technically the blues, but when Janis sings it, I think it’s the blues. She opens her mouth, and she holds nothing back. There’s sorrow and there’s anguish, and there’s no attempt to pretty it up.
I’d be remiss, though, if I didn’t single out Ella Fitzgerald’s version too. It’s subdued, it’s fluid, it’s definitely jazz. You can feel the heat of a sweltering August night when the windows are open and the air is still. And Ella’s voice is soft and silky and soothing in all the ways Janis’s is ragged and desperate. Despite my opening, I suspect Ella Fitzgerald captures the mood as well as anyone can. It just might make you cry.
Summertime by George Gershwin, DuBose Heyword, and Ira Gershwin. Give it a a try.