Tony Bennett Dies at age 96

A legend amongst legends. His appeal crossed generations for over 70 years as he sang with everyone from Celine Dion to Amy Winehouse to Lady Gaga. Reading his obituary is like a time capsule of the past 97 years. I knew he served in World War II but had no idea that he was on the front line of troops to liberate the German concentration camps. And I had no idea the story behind how he decided on his stage name:

At night he performed at amateur shows and worked as a singing waiter. He had just begun to get paying work as a singer, using the stage name Joe Bari, when he was drafted.

He arrived in Europe toward the end of World War II, serving in Germany in the infantry. He spent time on the front lines, an experience he described as “a front-row seat in hell,” and was among the troops who arrived to liberate the prisoners at the Landsberg concentration camp, a subcamp of Dachau.

After Germany surrendered, Mr. Bennett was part of the occupying forces, assigned to special services, where he ended up as a singer with Army bands and for a time was featured in a ragtag version of the musical “On the Town” — directed by Arthur Penn, who would go on to direct “Bonnie and Clyde” and other notable movies — in the opera house in Wiesbaden.

He returned to New York in August 1946 and set about beginning a career as a musician. On the G.I. Bill, he took classes at the American Theater Wing, which he later said helped teach him how to tell a story in song. He sang in nightclubs in Manhattan and Queens.

A series of breaks followed. He appeared on the radio show “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts,” the “American Idol” of its day. (The competition was won by Rosemary Clooney.) There are different versions of the biggest break in Mr. Bennett’s early career, but as he told it in “The Good Life,” he had been singing occasionally at a club in Greenwich Village where the owner had offered Pearl Bailey a gig as the headliner; she agreed, but only on the condition that Joe Bari stayed on the bill.

When Bob Hope came down to take in Ms. Bailey’s act, he liked Joe Bari so much that he asked him to open for him at the Paramount Theater. Hope had a condition, however: He didn’t like the name Joe Bari, and insisted it be changed. Dismissing the name Anthony Benedetto as too long to fit on a marquee, Hope christened the young singer Tony Bennett.

NY Times

Here are two snippets of an interview he did with Howard Stern back in 2011. The first one talks more about his time serving in World War II and how that experience impacted him. The second talked about his own trouble with drugs, how Frank Sinatra gave him a warning, and how he wished he did the same to Amy Winehouse.

The Legacy of the Cassette tape

The inventor of the cassette tape, Lou Ottens, died earlier this week. From the NY Times:

In these digital days, it may be hard to appreciate how radically Lou Ottens changed the audio world when, in 1963, he and his team at Philips, the Dutch electronics company, introduced the cassette tape.

“As the story goes, Lou was home one night trying to listen to a reel-to-reel recording when the loose tape began to unravel from its reel,” Zack Taylor, who directed the 2017 film “Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape,” said by email.

Mr. Ottens was in charge of product development at the Philips plant in Hasselt, Belgium, at the time.

“The next morning,” Mr. Taylor continued, “a frustrated Lou Ottens gathered the engineers and designers from the Philips audio division and insisted that they create something foolproof: The tape had to be enclosed, and the player had to fit in his jacket pocket.”

The cassette was a way to play music in a portable fashion, something not easily done with vinyl, and to record it conveniently as well. Artists started using cassettes to record passing ideas. Bootleggers used them to record live concerts for the underground market. Young lovers used them to swap mix tapes of songs that expressed their feelings.

Soon record labels began releasing entire albums on cassettes and automakers were installing cassette players on dashboards.

Another portable technology, the bulkier 8-track cartridge, was introduced in the same period, but cassettes, smaller and recordable, quickly doomed those devices, and also cut into the vinyl market.

NY Times

To me, the juxtaposition of Mr. Ottens, an engineer from the Netherlands, and the up and coming urban rappers from NYC (and other cities) who used and embraced his invention to distribute their music, for the exact reasons that Mr. Ottens was frustrated with other formats of the time, can not be understated.

There is a great documentary on Amazon called Cassette: A Documentary Mix Tape. The trailer is below and you can also see several clips and deleted scenes on the documentary’s website.

The importance of Mr. Ottens’ creation across the globe is staggering, if you really think about it, especially in the context of the birth of rap music in the 1970s and the ability of the kids of a certain generation to make mix tapes as a method of expression.

Over the past several years, there has been a renewed interest in cassette tapes. Modern artists today regularly offer up their albums in the cassette format (vinyl too!). While cassettes clearly are not as popular today as they were ‘back in the day’, it seems obvious that the format will never really go away.

Who Is Neil Young?

This is a question that I have pondered off and on over the many years I have been listening to music, and a question that the folks on the Polyphonic YouTube channel documented in a video essay . There is something about Mr. Young and his vast influence on the music world that is really hard to pin down.

From my perspective, my favorite work from Mr. Young’s illustrious career is his solo albums – specifically “Harvest”, “Harvest Moon”. What people forget is that he is from Canada, even though he had a massive influence on United States politics, history, music, and popular culture.

Similar to Johnny Cash – whom I never really appreciated until he was gone – I do make sure to fire up a set of Neil Young songs every once in awhile just to enjoy the unique sounds and cadence of his music.

Songs of Summer

The folks over at NPR have compiled a list of the top sings from each of the past 50 summers (1962-2012). They were inspired by a similar list over on Billboard Magazine’s site that listed the top summer songs from 1985-2011. There are more than a few songs in this list that I just shake my head at, and wonder what the collective ‘we’ were thinking. Ah, hindsight.

Both of these fine journalistic institutions kinda missed the musical boat on this one by not including a Spotify playlist of each of these lists. So, in about 20 minutes I was able to pull together the Spotify playlist for many of the songs from the NPR list, with a few additional songs from the Billboard list added for good measure.

Spotify Songs of Summer: 1962-2012 Playlist

While the Macarana was included in the top summer songs of 1996 by both Billboard and NPR, I refused to include it in Spotify playlist just on principle.

One Last Riff

The guitar pioneer Les Paul left us today. What’s most interesting is that not only did he invent the electric guitar, but he also experimented and created new recording techniques:

There he experimented with recording techniques, using them to create not realistic replicas of a performance but electronically enhanced fabrications. Toying with his mother’s old Victrola had shown him that changing the speed of a recording could alter both pitch and timbre. He could record at half-speed and replay the results at normal speed, creating the illusion of superhuman agility. He altered instrumental textures through microphone positioning and reverberation. Technology and studio effects, he realized, were instruments themselves.

A Song that Shimmers

A short, but great, interview with Adam Duritz of the Counting Crows on his favorite “summer song”, ‘Save It For Later’ by English Beat, and the experience he had when he saw what would eventually be English Beat’s last show. I would have to enthusiastically agree with him…it’s a favorite of mine and the way he describes the “absolute joy of the song” is spot on.


This evening on the commute home, I was exchanging comments with a friend of mine regarding a post he put up on Facebook (log in required), in which he alluded to the classic 1980’s song “She Sells Sanctuary” by The Cult. So of course, as I’m in my car driving home and listening to my new favorite car radio station, WRXP 101.9 (NYC), what comes on at 7:04PM but…wait for it….She Sells Sanctuary by The Cult. Its a sign. Not sure of what, but its a sign.

And while I’m on the subject of NYC radio stations, WRXP is a breath of fresh air in the vapid morass that is, and has been, the NYC region’s music radio stations (If I’m late to discovering RXP, shame on me). For years we’ve had to suffer with cookie cutter, top 100 pop crap stations. Finally, someone has put together a station that incorporates new, underground artists, along with classic songs and artists from the past 0-30 years. And the DJ’s know what they are talking about….Matt Pinfield is excellent. WXRT is a great change of pace on the NYC area’s radio dial and I wish it great success so long as it does not get swallowed by internet/satellite radio.

The Internet Killed the Radio Star

MTV has released an online video site that houses all the videos that have ever run on the network (we won’t talk about its name – MTV Music or Music Television Music – or the fact that these days MTV is anything but Music Television).

Check out the very first video ever played on MTV, The Buggles’ Video Killed The Radio Star or this Internet classic or Devo’s Whip It or one of my favorites, the Dead Milkmen’s “Punk Rock Girl”.

The Most Popular area, which as of today looks like a retro 1980’s top video list with video “classics” like Dire Straits Money for Nothing, aHa’s Take on Me, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, or – wait for it – Toto’s Africa.

Big hair is back, kids.

Grandmaster Flash

The other day I was coming home from work and I just happened to dial up the Fresh Air with Teri Gross podcast. It’s not a podcast I listen to regularly, however whenever there is a good interview on NPR, it always seems as though Teri Gross is the interviewer. In any case, the podcast I dialed up was from March 2 and it featured an interview with Grandmaster Flash, arguably the godfather and first true star of rap/hip hop music. Whether you are a fan of rap/hip hop or not, take a listen. It’s an amazing interview in that Grandmaster Flash is able to transport you back to the early 1980’s when he was honing his craft and just investigating how far he could push the limits. What was also amazing was when Teri Gross asks him to do a voice over of what he was doing (artistically) while they listen to his seminal “The Message” mix.

One Step Closer to Being A Mall


Another big part of New York’s long music legacy was lost to the history books this past weekend when CBGB OMFUG (Country BlueGrass Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers is the long version of the name) unceremoniously closed its doors. And now, NYC is one big step closer to being a homogeneous plastic concrete Mall of America. I’m not going to claim to be anything close to a punk rocker, and I sadly never even set foot in the place. But I am aware of its place in music history, the legends it helped create, and the legend the venue itself became. In recent years, CBGB fell into some level of disrepair and the level of music innovation never did rival that time in the mid-to-late 1970’s when acts like the Talking Heads, The Ramones, Blondie, and others established themselves there. But you always knew that it was there as a living, breathing piece of NY and American music history. And now, it’s not there. Rumors are that they will try to take it apart and rebuild it in (gasp) Las Vegas, but obviously it will never be the same. What are they going to do next, close McSorley’s?

Via NY Times

The Day My iPod Died

This past Friday, my iPod died.  I was sitting at work listening to some tunes and cranking out a project brief, when all of a sudden it just stopped playing.  When I picked it up, the back of it was smoking hot to the touch, and the software was freezing and sputtering.  If it was a car, it was the equivelant of lurching and choking and shaking violently.

As any normal person would do, I started to hit every button to see if it would start playing again but nothing happened.  Then, I went to the Internet.  How can I reboot this thing?  Maybe it just needs a little refresh as in my 1.5 years of owning it, I’d never rebooted it.  As we all know, we all need to reboot every once in a while.

A ha! I found it. A very informative iPod site detailing exact instructions on how to reboot my iPod.  “Your data will not be effected when you reboot your iPod.” it said.  I hit the “Menu” and “Play” buttons at the same time for about 10 seconds (yes, I had the 3rd generation iPod which I’ve always been somewhat bitter about, being that I purchaed it all of two weeks ahead of the 4th generation release…but we won’t go there) and it rebooted.  Ok, this is good, I said.  It appears to be working fine now.  But to my horror, every song, podcast, and piece of information on my iPod was gone…Casper…no where to be found.  Yes, everything was in iTunes on my home computer, so it was not an unmitigated catastrophe (unless you consider the commute home that evening), but this was not expected based on what I read (Mistake #1:  Everything on the internet is not fact).  And the iPod was still smoking hot on the back too.  Now I knew something was seriously wrong.

I wake up on Saturday and try to sync it with iTunes, and again it fails.  I bitterly head downstairs to eat breakfast, and there it is…slapping me right in the face.  Its an article in the NY Times by Joe Nocera titled “Good Luck With That Broken iPod” (fyi…the online article is behind the NYTimes “Select” service, so I can’t link to it).  The timing was impeccable.  The article essentially said that if your iPod breaks, there is little that Apple will do to help other than saying “Go buy a new one” and offering an extended warranty.  Bitterness turned to frustration.

On Sunday, fearing the worst, I took my injured iPod to the local Apple store right when it opened.  One of the salespeople took it and tried to bring its software back to factory condition.  Alas, that did not work as he determined it was a component issue, which costs $250 minimum.  As the article said, “Go buy a new one.”  So I did, reluctantly.  Some silver lining is that I was able to give my broken one back to Apple and they took 10% off the cost of my new one.  This time, I did buy the warranty.

So now I have the new iPod Video with an extended warranty.  My plans to replace my 5 year old behemouth of a digital camera will have to wait another year or so.  I use my iPod every day when I commute to work.  I’m not going to say “its more trouble than its worth” because there is no way I could survive my commute without it.  But still, its been a rocky relationship….

The New iPod

Wow, they never cease to amaze. Not a month after they released the amazing looking nano, they take the next step towards media convergance and release the often rumored Video iPod. The real challenge becomes how interested and engaging this will be with consumers. I think the popularity of the iPod is a direct function of the fact that with music/audio, you can be doing other things while you are listening. With video, you need to be fully attentive to the content.

But even if you don’t download a single video, the bigger screen, the larger amount of disc space, and the increased battery life are reasons alone to seriously consider an upgrade. My iPod is now closing in on 1.5 years old, and while it is still serving me quite well, I am starting to get a little bit of iPod envy.

The Man In Black

Johnny Cash

I have never, ever liked Country music. I still don’t like Country music.

When I purchased my iPod about a year ago, I diligently went ahead and imported my whole music collection, and my wife’s collection, to iTunes. Included in my wife’s collection were a couple of albums from Johnny Cash – Unchained, and American IV: The Man Comes Around.

Maybe I am getting old, or maybe I am just learning to appreciate different artists or music genres. No matter, my iPod has had a knack of regularly playing music from both of Johnny Cash’s albums, and I have to admit that I am starting to understand why Johnny Cash was so popular for so long. Maybe its the fact that listening to my iPod, I am paying more attention to the lyrics. I am not sure. But what I do know is that Johnny Cash was pretty cool and that his music, while “classified” as Country, really extends way beyond that label. I’m not going to go into the significance of American IV, being that it was his last album and was created as a metaphor for reflection on his amazing life. However, the song list on that album, which included covers of Nine Inch Nails (Hurt), The Beatles (In My Life), Depeche Mode (Personal Jesus) and others, really hits home and by the time you finish actually listening to the entire album, start to finish, you will feel humbled.

When I was living out in Chicago, I saw “The Man in Black” perform at the Chicago House of Blues around the time that Unchained was released. I enjoyed the show but I did not appreciate the show. I wish I had.

iPod guilty pleasures

Out and about on the Internet, people are confessing about those skeletons buried in the back corners of their iPods. You know who you are. Britney, Burt Bachrach, Neil Diamond…they are there on your iPod. As for me, well…I will admit that I have a few Sinatra songs, I have a Tony Bennett CD cued up, ready to download, and I am seriously thinking of adding some Elvis to the mix.


So I ordered an Apple iPod this weekend. Looking forward to loading it up and using it!! I ordered the 20GB size basically because I could not justify spending $500 for it. They were running a promotion where I could get it engraved for free, which I gladly took advantage of. I put this url and my email address on it figuring that if I ever lost it, maybe some kind soul would email me and return it. Also, I figure 20GB is more than enough space for most of my current CD collection plus other songs that I will eventually acquire from iTunes. My wife was even nice enough to purchase a $15 Gift Certificate for me to get started on iTunes. I would have preferred the BMW for my iPod but beggars can’t be choosers. Rock on.

Update – The iPod was delivered by FedEx ahead of schedule at 10:18AM on Friday July 9th! Yay! Can’t wait to use it.

Its Not the Song, Its the Song Part

Over on retroCRUSH is a great page that highlights the top song parts in music. This page so accurately points out that there are so many songs out there that are exceedling average, or the band that created them was exceedingly average, but there are elements of a specific song they created that are timeless. Snippets like the opening rift in One Step Beyond by Madness or the opening of Anarchy in the U.K. by the Sex Pistols are highlighted and appropriately so. However, the biggest issue I have with this fine compilation is the fact that they listed Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight as the #1 Cool Song Moment. Anyone who votes for Phil Collins at the top of any music related list (other than the list of top most annoying singers of the 1980’s) in any way has some serious musical issues. But even with that major jugmental flaw, its still a great list worth checking out.