God bless America

I keep thinking about the two jackasses who show up at virtually every Yankees’ home game, at least the ones televised  from The Bronx.

They bring a big American flag with them to every game. And in the seventh inning, when the Stadium’s PA system plays a snippet of Kate Smith’s rendition of Irving Berlin’s superficial and stupid “God Bless America,” the YES Network camera zooms in on these two as they smugly belt out the lyrics, hold up the flag — and occasionally look around to see if everyone else is watching.

Never mind that the song sucks. Never mind that Woody Guthrie heard it, also thought it sucked, and wrote “This Land Is Your Land” — which should be our National Anthem — in response. Perhaps more important are the misguided patriotism and jingoism that have overtaken baseball and other sports.

“God Bless America” was added to the seventh inning stretch after 9/11. OK. But now it’s nearly two decades later.

Perhaps most disturbing: People stand up, hold their caps to their hearts, bow their heads and sing along — none of which is called for or required. And I guarantee you that many of those people think “God Bless America” is the OTHER National Anthem or might even be THE National Anthem.

As for “The Star-Spangled Banner” itself, the tune has been played at baseball games for 80 years — but as a part of the tradition of the American Pastime. It’s not required. And it’s a song that glorifies war. If they play it before each game, fine — but bear in mind that it didn’t even become our National Anthem until the 1930s.

And “God Bless America” does not require holding your cap to your heart. Me, not only do I refuse to doff my cap, but if the two yahoos who bring a big flag to every game ever said anything about it, I’d tell them to kiss my red, white and blue you-know what.






Hallelujah, indeed…

I don’t quite get why  people think Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is celebratory — or that it has anything to do with religion. It’s a song about heartbreak. It’s a song about the pain of love. Yes, there’s beauty — in the song, and even in the pain and heartbreak that often accompany love — but mostly this song is just powerfully sad and deeply moving.

Just now I was thinking about someone who’s dear to me, and this song echoed in my thoughts along with a madrigal of memories, and (just in case anyone’s taking notes!) I found myself thinking I’d like to request that this lovely version by John Cale be played at my funeral someday…along with Take 4 of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and the live version of “Moon River” performed by Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton…








Something to get hung about….

We’ve all heard the stories, I think, as the years have passed since his awful death. John Lennon was a misogynist. John Lennon’s obsession with Yoko — and his huge ego — broke up the Beatles. John Lennon lived much of his post-Beatles life in a druggy haze and became a pathetic figure who wouldn’t make a move without consulting an astrologer and the I Ching.  John Lennon lost his edge — nothing he did post-Beatles compares to “In My Life” and “Strawberry Fields” and “A Day in the Life” and even “I Am the Walrus.”

To this I say: Whatever.

John Lennon was a genius — and his human frailties were at the heart of his genius. And I think he was, when the ledger sheet’s assets and debits are balanced, a good-hearted and peaceful man, and a true advocate for that simple but elusive goal: just giving peace a chance.

And when John Lennon died 35 years ago, I cried and cried and cried. It was just so ironic, so sad, so fucking sad…

Just think…John Lennon would be 75 years old. He was, incredibly, just 40 when he was gunned down.

And, by the way, it’s just not true his post-Beatles work didn’t compare.

Yes, here’s what I consider his most beautiful song: Take four of “Strawberry Fields Forever:”

But tell me this song isn’t great…

Chanting the mantra: Peace on Earth.

Rest in peace, John Lennon.








My son, the singer/guitarist/songwriter

Back in the 1960s there was a parody album titled “My Son, the Folksinger,” put out by Allan Sherman, he of “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” infamy. Well, this is the opposite of parody.

My son Matt’s turned into quite the guitarist, singer and songwriter. He’s been living in North Carolina, writing music, performing in some local venues (sometimes solo, just him and his acoustic guitar, and sometimes with friends). And some of his music has been recorded and posted to the Soundcloud website.

Here’s a link to two Matt DiGiovanni originals — a blues, and another song with a Neil Young sounds of feel to it.

If you want to hear more, go to soundcloud.com and use the search function to find Matt DiGiovanni. You’ll find about eight songs, mostly solo although a few at the end were recorded with a friend — including a rough but very cool recording of “Get Back” by The Beatles.  They’re all under the label “Deadskunk.”



Rocking in “The Cradle of Recorded Jazz”

Who ever would have imagined? Somehow you find yourself in, of all places, Indiana, in a town called Richmond, just over the Ohio line, about midway between Indianapolis and Louisville.

You’re heading to breakfast at a downtown cafe and notice a large mural, about two stories high, of a 1920s-vintage blues musician carrying his guitar and his cardboard suitcase. As you wonder about the mural, you wander around the corner and there’s another mural — this one depicts (their names are under the pictures, although you easily recognize a few of the faces) Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton and others.

Turns out Richmond, Indiana, calls itself “The Cradle of Recorded Jazz” — and has a legitimate claim to that title. Early in the last century, the town was the home of Gennett Records and Studios, which put out early recordings by Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, Fletcher Henderson and Fats Waller. Really early recordings. The last commercial record released with the Gennett label came out in 1934.

I didn’t get a chance to stop by the town’s Starr-Gennett Galley, which displays artifacts and memorabilia and offers CDs of music by the label’s musicians. I didn’t have the opportunity to visit the Gennett Records Walk of Fame.

But I did visit the brick ruins of the former site of Gennett Records and the Starr Piano Company — Gennett was a division of Starr, which was famous in its own right and was founded way back in 1872 in Richmond. And as I tried to imagine the days when the place bustled with activity and reverberated with music, I also tried to get my head around the impressive roster of Gennett musicians — including Bix Beiderbecke and The Wolverines, Gene Autry, Big Bill Broonzy, blues diva Alberta Hunter, King Oliver, Lawrence Welk (yikes!) Hoagy Carmichael, country/bluegrass legend Uncle Dave Macon, and — holy moley and hosannah! — Blind Lemon Jefferson and Charley Patton!

Richmond, Indiana, where the Ku Klux Klan once thrived, where a hotel houses a collection of framed and mounted gaudy neckties donated by visiting Agway distributors and Kiwanis Club conventioneers, where the local history museum proudly displays one of only two honest-to-goodness Egyptian mummies in residence in the entire Hoosier State, which back in the 1920s and 1930s proudly proclaimed itself “The Lawnmower Capital of the World” — and where great bluesmen and great jazz musicians gave birth to great music at Gennett Records, “The Cradle of Recorded Jazz.”

Here’s Big Bill Broonzy:

Here’s Hoagy Carmichael singing “Stardust”:

Here’s Uncle Dave Mason:

Here’s Charley Patton singing “High Water Blues”:

And here’s Blind Lemon Jeffersonm, speaking for us all, singing “See That My Grave is Kept Clean”:

Sleepless nights

Ray Davies wrote “I Go to Sleep” for the Kinks, years before he fell in love with the lead singer of The Pretenders. Here’s the version by Chrissie Hynde…They haven’t been together for a long time…Are they able to sleep at night now? Or do they still hear this song in their heads, in the darkness, in the night?

String theory: Little ukulele might be the next big thing

True or false?
Nicholas DiGiovanni likes ukulele music.
True, believe it or not.

Earlier this summer I found myself on the lower East Side of Manhattan in a cozy little venue called Googie’s for an evening of ukulele music, including a great performance by Emmy-award winner J. Walter Hawkes, a friend I met early this year at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, where Walter did me the great honor of collaborating with me in a public performance for VCCA fellows as I read one night from a couple of my fictions and was accompanied by the talented Mister Hawkes on his very bluesy and very jazzy trombone.

No, I did not have a nervous breakdown after two hours of listening to Walter (performing solo) and two other groups of ukulele virtuosos. It was fun, creative music with more complexity and nuance than you might think.

Here’s a video of Walter singing and performing (on the ukulele, accompanied by a bass player and a drummer) one of his self-penned songs from a new CD, “Uke and the Night and the Music.”

And here’s a link to Walter’s website, where you can order the CD and check out a schedule of performances (most in New York City and mostly with his trio and quartet): http://www.blatomaster.com/