Thursday, November 24, 2005

Johnny Cash- Johnny Cash At San Quentin (Original LP Release) (1969)

My folks had mostly comedy records when I was a lil’ tyke, and tended to ignore music in general, save for the occasional oldies station blaring on the transistor in the kitchen. My Mom maintained something (sort of) resembling a family record collection. (Dad thought that buying records was “foolish”, like a lot of other things- long story, and not the time or place for telling it now.)

What few musical releases were on hand comprised of folks like Sammy Davis Jr. and Peggy Lee, and myriad collections of Christmas classics, with the occasional contemporary country offering such as Lynn Anderson’s “Rose Garden” and “Roger Miller’s Greatest Hits”.

And “Johnny Cash At San Quentin”. Some kids would be embarrassed to admit that they played the shit out of even just one of their parents’ records, but this was one that I nearly wore out, and lo and behold, the LP I grew up listening to is this season’s sound du jour, thanks to the recent release of the (entertaining, but mostly inaccurate and bullshit filled) motion picture “Walk The Line”.

As a na├»ve, impressionable kid, I loved every fuckin’ thing about this record: among other things, there's the stripped down chugga-chug of the band, driven by Carl Perkins’ smooth guitar runs (trademarked by Luther Perkins, who had died about seven months previous to this concert), Cash’s relentless shit talking, verbally clawing in on the prison authorities’ skin (sometimes good naturedly and mostly not), and a few barreling renditions of Cash classics like “I Walk The Line” and “Folsom Prison Blues” performed with a tempo that must have been laid down and never restored from Cash’s pep pill days. Even the relatively dorky numbers, like the gospel tunes and the duet with June Carter Cash on John Sebastian’s “Darling Companion”, are performed with such a level of sincerity and vivacity that even the most arrogant purveyors of cool will kick their own asses in self-loathing at the admission that they may have actually enjoyed what they heard.

The (British) Granada TV special that this album is forged from is a fine time capsule of interviews with San Quentin inmates and an interesting perspective of the era’s Death Row atmosphere. Unfortunately, the documentary does no justice to Cash’s performance as it chops the actual concert into terse particles and we only get mostly halfed-or-worse segments of practically all of the songs that made the final cut. A more accurate title for the TV special may have been “Life In San Quentin (with special guest Johnny Cash).”

Nah, if you want to feel the true atmosphere of the actual show that went down between those walls and guard towers, you will have to listen to this record from start to finish. And even though the first vinyl release is changed around (with the set list “corrected” and extended on the later CD re- issue,) it may be worth it to hit the nearest used record store and pick up the original article. Shit, the original LP was at Number One for 20 straight weeks, so in any big city it couldn’t be THAT hard to scare up a copy.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Ah, Sacramento’s venerable Alhambra Blvd. Safeway. Here is a store allegedly smitten with tons of bad karma by the aficionados of the movie theater that was razed previous to the supermarket’s construction. And yet, rejoiced over by so many generations of twenty- and thirty-something Midtown recreational alcoholics, grateful for that special place to score one more 12 pack of Hamm’s at 1:50 AM. in order to continue the partyin’ into the wee hours of Sunday morning.

Playing catch-up to its newer sister store at 19th and S Streets, the Alhambra store recently underwent a makeover. One truly positive note: unlike the newer store there’s no tin horse sculpture or lame water silo that can’t actually hold water (yet.) That's why I, simply overwhelmed with curiosity, just HAD to go check the newly remodeled digs out. (OK, I lied: it was the 10.00 discount coupon that was about to expire which I received in the mail ad as part of the store's Grand "Reopening" hoo-ha whoop de doo campaign.)

Of course, like many businesses nowadays, Safeway is trying ways to endear the public into feeling special simply because they walked in for some Napa wine, cat food and Brie. At least that seems to be the target audience they’re attempting to attract with their, um, creative use of words for their section signs.

For instance, you’re not just among fruits and vegetables- you’re having a “fresh from the fields” experience! Whee! How wonderful is that? And all I wanted was some Macintosh apples and broccoli crowns! And to contemplate the amazing idea that they are going to be “fresh from the fields” to boot! Wow!

And that’s not just any ol’ gallon of milk that I'm taking home, honey! THAT is a “pure and wholesome” specimen of godly nectar which I'm going to pour on the morning cereal! I just tingled inside when I realized what I was partaking in!

Vegans are probably going to be rather unpleased with the declaration of the meat counter as “the main course.” Come to think of it, they probably won’t be thrilled with the dairy section’s “pure and wholesome” tag either. Especially when you consider that the Veggie Burgers and other vegetarian meat substitutes are tucked away in the frozen section. But now, like its younger sibling on S Street, there’s a pseudo- Trader Joe’s/Whole Foods Market- like section with a large variety of overpriced excuses to avoid the lower classes in other parts of the store. (Is this a possible future trend? Stores segregating their merchandise by a perceived ideological caste?)

Of course, my most rational reaction I could possibly have to this literary license of the grocery store wall would be something along the lines of “Why the fuck would anyone do this?” Perhaps there was a fancy overpriced demographic study done at some point suggesting (for all stores and not just due to Midtown’s large literati/cultural Nazi scene) that these flowery phrases on the walls would somehow reinforce a sense of fondness and loyalty, that is, a reliable and regular consumer base. My advice: if this actually happened, please demand a refund. Now. Here. You can use my cell phone. Call that marketing firm and get your money back. Pronto.

At least the courtesy booth still reads “Customer Service” and not some fruity euphemism like “dedicated to serve and please.” Sure, most folks won’t give a shit either way: they just hope that there’s enough registers open in order to get the Hell out of there as soon as their shopping’s done. However, I have a gut feeling that, like any other store, Safeway will be hearing from folks in its more vociferous customer base who don’t quite “get” the attempt to stand out and be charmingly different from the other markets. In a matter of time, if there’s any writing up there at all, we’ll see a return to the more generic “Meats Fish and Poultry” and “Dairy” back in place, and the Grocer’s Poetry Project will be a thing of the past.