On a clear, mild morning like this, the streets surrounding SIlver Lake are usually teeming with joggers and dog-walkers. But this morning the streets are virtually deserted. A lone lawn mower buzzes through the quiet and when it stops it sounds like there are a million birds chirping. Even the surf-like din from I-5 is tamped down. Everyone is inside, watching the proceedings from our nation's capitol. My natural inclination is to crack wise, but I am actually sobered and overcome by the moment. Now is the time to say a prayer. For our country and our new president.
When Glen Campbell's "Southern Nights" ruled the airwaves in 1977, the song annoyed me. It was too jaunty. Probably that infernal banjo. Nevertheless, I knew that it was a great pop song. At the time I didn't know that it had been written by Allen Toussaint. (C'mon, I was 20 at the time and not yet a sophisticated music fan.) My knowledge of New Orleans music was limited to what I heard on the oldies station--Fats Domino, Lee Dorsey, Irma Thomas. At some point I started noticing Toussaint's name as the composer of songs such as Boz Scaggs' "What Do You Want the Girl to Do?" And then on several Neville Brothers albums. About then I started delving into the New Orleans sound and learned that Toussaint's name was everywhere as a composer, producer and pianist. He worked with Domino, Dorsey and Thomas, with Chris Kenner, the Meters and LaBelle. And he was a great songwriter: "Ride Your Pony" and "Working In the Coal Mine" for Dorsey; "Ruler of My Heart" and "It's Raining" for Thomas; "All These Things" for Art Neville; "Yes We Can Can" for the Pointer Sisters. (For legal reasons, many of Toussaint's songs were written under the pseudonym Naomi Neville--his mother's name.) But it wasn't until I came across a collection of Toussaint's own recordings that I realized he had also written "Southern Nights." His version is more laid back than Campbell's, and Toussaint's vocal sounds like it's run through a vocoder, giving it a slightly spooky feel--like he's considering that southern night from the middle of a swamp. His version of "What Do You Want the Girl to Do?" was virtually copied by Scaggs, but as much as I loved Boz's version on "Silk Degrees," Toussaint's restraint carries the day. And then there's my favorite Toussaint song: "Wrong Number," a break-up ballad about a heartbroken guy hoping his girl will call him. Toussaint's version is marred by a cheesy guitar solo and so in this case I prefer Aaron Neville's cover. But, of course, that's Toussaint playing the classic doo-wop piano line. Allen Toussaint turned 71 on Wednesday and he's still going strong, despite having lost his home and all his possessions to Hurricane Katrina. Like New Orleans, Allen Toussaint is a survivor.
At long last, I've taken the plunge. Visit me here for random musings and observations about pleasurable distractions and magnificent obsessions. Above is a sunrise in San Antonio, as seen from the deck of a dear friend's fantastic home during our holiday visit. Today in L.A. it may be warm enough to drag out the BBQ grill and pretend that it's late spring/early summer. Burgers and Stella Artois. Meanwhile, I'm hoping that the Dodgers' strategy re: Manny Ramirez will pay off. Otherwise, the team owners may have to go into hiding. Yes, Manny's a head case, but let's keep him our head case. And there are reports that the Phillies are interested in signing Nomar Garciaparra. Nomar may be reaching that point where an aging athlete just can't let go. Who knows if he has anything left. But he obviously believes he does. In any case, it was nice to have the homeboy play at home for a while. Nomar, thanks for the memories.