WARNING: SPOILER ALERT
As Mad Men comes to a close, I can't help but process my thoughts and feelings about the final episode. I keep reading disappointed reviews by critics, however I found the final episode a fitting conclusion and surprisingly satisfying.
All of us mid-century junkies were sucked into this show for the aesthetics. As for myself, I begrudgingly began watching after the first season had fully aired. As a dedicated feminist, I was originally deterred by all the male Mad Men fans who were actively celebrating the sexist "good ole days" depicted on the program. It wasn't long before the gorgeous artistic direction of the show proved to be something I simply couldn't resist. After a handful of episodes I found this wasn't a show about MEN as much as it was the story about the journey of women (admittedly mostly white women) during the decade that would forever transform gender roles in the United States, all told against the backdrop of the industry that did so much to control and define the confining roles and impossible standards set for women in the 20th century.
Modern feminists grabbed a hold of the character Peggy Olson and claimed her as their representation. A lot of feminists are angry about the conclusion of Peggy's story in a variety of ways. They seem to think she was betrayed by a storyline not true to her character. But is that really true, or is she being judged by modern standards? Are people just angry because she didn't make the choice they would have liked her to make?
My viewpoint is different. I think her decision to stay at McCann was totally in-line with the character. She obviously LOVED being a part of that system. She loved playing the game that would allow her to ascend up the ladder within that system and patterning her career after her mentor, Don Draper. She revelled in the power she could wield over her subordinates. It makes perfect sense that she would be happy staying with McCann.
In terms of the sudden love connection with Stan, it seemed to me that Peggy just went along with Stan because...why not? Nothing better had come along and they're best friends. That's something Peggy had done throughout the series in terms of romance. She just kind of goes along with whatever's in front of her. Many people have criticized the sappiness of love story at the end, but I think the "corniness" of it was intentional. It played like the contrived emotions of a vintage television ad for Bell telephone company. What could be more appropriate for a tv show about advertising?
For all of us who hung our professional feminist dreams on Peggy (myself included), the joke is on us. CLEARLY we should have been less surprised by the triumph of Joan. Aren't we a bunch of jerks for not realizing that it was JOAN all along who was the closest representation of today's modern feminist SHEros? I was literally cheering (complete with fist pumps) for her throughout the episode. I think most people assumed that Joan would continue to be punished for utilizing her sex appeal for advancement in the business world.
I feel fairly confident that like me, most women have felt underestimated at times. Perhaps that's why it feels so incredibly satisfying to see Joan seize opportunity and establish her own power. She represents all of us who have been written off, dismissed, or ignored - The people who weren't allowed to thrive within the established power structure, who have come to realization that if we want to flourish we'll have to do it ourselves. We have to build our own thing from the ground up.
So, to those who say the Mad Men finale wasn't feminist enough simply because of Peggy didn't follow the trajectory you define as feminist, I say feminism can and should include whole host of perspectives. Feminism can be Betty staking claim in what's best for her children. It can be Peggy simply choosing to do what she wants to do rather than following a contemporary idea of ambition. AND it can be Joan choosing her own professional ambition instead of a man. MOST of all, feminism is the telling of all of these women's stories and their journeys to their own brands of self-empowerment. Our power lies in having options.
Today's record of the day goes out to Joan who was branded a sex-pot and a party girl. The message is, NEVER UNDERESTIMATE a "party girl", or any woman for that matter. There are still barriers to be broken and we're coming to claim or stake!
This song was recorded by the Big 3 featuring Cass Elliot (pre- Mamas and the Paps days) in the early days of when the Mad Men series takes place. Women's liberation was just beginning to simmer under the surface and the women performers within the early 1960s radical folk music scene took inspiration from classic blues artists. This record is a cover of an Ida Cox song originally recorded in 1924. In this song we celebrate the women who bucked traditions so that the women of today could have options. And it's a reminder to keep being wild and untamed. Never settle for less than what you deserve.
What was it about BB King that allowed him to float to the top of a sea of brilliant blues musicians making him the most well-known artist of the genre? I've been asking this question for many years and I always come back to the same answer- MASSIVE likability. Yes, to become a musical ambassador a person has to have qualities beyond just musical skill. BB King was a guy with a warm personality, a brand that was easily marketable to the masses, and the ability to endure. It helps that he rose to prominence during the birth of rock n roll, an era when the general record buying public was much more friendly with blues artists.
However, as the decades went on, blues went back underground. Only a very small handful of artists would remain in public consciousness. It was the BB King brand that thrived via commercials, print ads, his club for tourists in Memphis, his guest appearances on other people's records, etc. People never got tired of BB. You can't really attribute that to his music. It was the power of his celebrity. He was the go-to guy when you wanted someone to represent the blues, especially as his contemporaries went on to the next life.
The LEGEND of BB King is so huge, it's hard to imagine a world without him. He falls in that elite category of people who personify their art. There is now a gaping hole in the landscape of our American culture, much like when Ray Charles and Johnny Cash passed away. These folks are as much (if not more) a part of who we are as a nation as any political leaders.
So today I mourn the passing of an American icon. Today I will dance to what is currently my favorite BB King 45. I hope you'll do a little shuffle too. If you are someone who was introduced to the blues through BB King, I hope you'll take some time to dig a little deeper into the genre in his honor. He led you there to show you there's so much more to love.
One of the greatest voices of the 20th century has danced his last earthly dance. Ben E King is sometimes written off as a pop-soul "sell out" by those who prefer a grittier sound. To those people I say, you have a narrow appreciation of soul music. King's impact, true artistry, and contribution is undeniable. In fact, for many people of my generation, Ben E King was the primary gateway to the genre of 1960s soul.
He was a master of theatrical soul performance. King knew how to sell a song through subtle emotion and elegant nuance, slowly building the drama of the story to peak just short of melodrama. With the collaboration of master producers Leiber and Stoller, each record became a mini play, often times reminiscent of a tragic opera. Perhaps it was the Spanish musical elements that gave that feel of "Carmen" (most likely that was on purpose). A little Bizet for the pop audience. Whatever it was, it worked.
The late 50s & early 60s was King's most celebrated and best-remembered era, but he continued to record regularly throughout the 1970s even delivering some very interesting experiments in the blending of psych-soul and rock. Sometimes that era was a little hit and miss, but he put out a lot of overlooked gems during that period.
My selection of the day is a great example. Ben E King does Elton John. I personally far prefer this to the original and I think he brings a great deal to the song, perhaps even bringing a deeper meaning.
With the passing of Ben E King (and Don Covay recently), we've seen the end of the Soul Clan and maybe a more official ending of an era. Of course, there are a good number of people like me who work every day to keep the flame burning, making sure the soul music pilot light never goes out. So, Mr. King rest assured that we will never let you be forgotten.
So long old friend.
Willie Nelson, who began his recording career in 1956 in Vancouver, Washington, was born on this day 82 years ago. Willie's story is well-known to most.: Disc jockey turned songwriter turned outlaw country pioneer turned actor turned pop balladeer turned activist turned president of the stoner nation turned IRS target turned American treasure.
I'll fully admit, Willie Nelson is someone I came to appreciate as an adult. As I child I mostly knew him from his awkward duet with Julio Iglesias and just for being Willie Nelson. As a young adult I started to appreciate his music and I find that appreciation growing with each day.
I think because he's always been visible, it feels like he's family. Willie's like your cool, weird old stoner hippie uncle who talks a lot about booze, weed, hangovers and one-night stands.
Happy Birthday Uncle Willie!
Conga player and band leader Joe Cuba, "the Father of Latin Boogaloo" was born on this day in New York City in 1931. IN the mid-1960s he was instrumental in the development and popularization of Latin Soul (a blending of Afro-Cuban and Puerto Rican musical elements with soul music). He's probably best know for his hit "Bang Bang" which has shown a certain amount of longevity over the years, especially due to cover versions.
I find endless inspiration in the music of the 1960s. It was an explosion of the intermingling of genres and cultures, a reflection of the desire for a more integrated society where contributions of individual groups of people were valued equally. Within MUSIC the myth of the American melting pot could be more fully realized than in every day life. In Latin soul we hear the musical integration of the New York Puerto Rican and Cuban population. Soul was integrated into Latin music and Latin was integrated into soul. The Latin influence in soul music went from being a gimmick in the early 1960s to being fully fused with funky soul by the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Joe Cuba was one of the KINGs of this genre, and his party records are legendary guaranteed floor-fillers that for me, have raised the roof with nearly every spin. We lost Joe Cuba in 2009, but his musical party carries on. And "Oh Yeah" is one of the BEST summertime songs EVER!!!!!!!
I would like to use this space to congratulate Bill Withers on his induction into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. Though the RnRHoF is imperfect in its selection process, I'm happy to use this excuse to give a nod to my favorite live soul LP. Mr. Withers has long been in the DJ Action Slacks Favorite Artist Hall of Fame, which is maybe not quite as prestigious, but includes some really great company.
I think I could easily say that I follow the ethical philosophy of the School of Bill Withers. I've been listening to him since my formative years, and his music message is burned into my psyche. This man was much more than a singer to me. As someone who found his voice a little later than most famous musicians(in his 30s), he was an inspiration for me as I struggled to find my own creative path.
The Bill Withers Live at Carnegie Hall LP represents everything I love about Mr. Withers. It clearly shows Withers as the soul representation of the singer-songwriter movement of the early 1970s and as a soul-folk troubadour he sings every hue of emotion.
This album has it all: songs of celebration, songs of the deepest sorrow and hopelessness, inspirational message songs about togetherness and overcoming adversity, protest songs about Vietnam and inequality, soul-folk story songs, entertaining stage patter, a lady percussionist, and funky dance grooves. And because it travels across such a wide range of emotion, I can't recommend just one song off of this album. I simply must recommend the entire thing.
I've listened to this album at least a kabillion times and I NEVER get tired of it. He takes me on a journey EVERY time, bringing me to tears one moment and celebrating humanity the next. Check it out. You won't be sorry.
Pop-soul icon Dusty Springfield was born on this day in 1939 in West Hampstead, North London, England.
As you all know, Dusty Springfield has an epic musical legacy. She is one of the greatest pop singers of all time. She was also the queen of British blue-eyed soul singers. Often times, her music transcended musical categories. She was also a glamourous, gorgeous diva. Her incredible success and popularity make it all the more unlikely that this legend would publicly come out as early as 1970. It's such an incredibly brave act, something to be deeply admired.
Dusty is probably best remembered for the way she could reach out and caress her listeners through her delicate ballads. And it's true, nobody could do that quite like Dusty, BUT she could also wail when she wanted to. It's unfortunate and disappointing that so few of her soul stompers made it to 45. I guess they just didn't want to market her that way, or perhaps they didn't have faith in the public buying that side of her. Whatever the reason, we sure did miss out.
Her version of "Can I Get A Witness" is a killer floor-filler. It could have been a SOLID GOLD hit! It took me years to find it on a 7" but it became an instant Sugar Town classic upon the first spin.
Happy Birthday Dusty and thank you for your legacy.
Bessie Smith, probably the most influential lady blues singer of all time, was born on this day 121 years ago in Chattanooga, TN. If you draw a line of influences for any female soul singer, you'll most likely find the root leads back to Bessie Smith. The foundation of American popular music largely rests on her shoulders. It's hard to imagine leaving that kind of enormous and LASTING impact on culture. But it's easy to explain when you consider that the vocalists she directly influenced went on to influence so many who came after them: Mahalia Jackson, Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday, to name just a few. The influence of Bessie Smith fans out from there.
With this HBO bio featuring Queen Latifah on it's way, Bessie is all the rage these days. It's great to see her getting some respect. Hopefully a new generation will seek out her music after they learn her story.
My favorite will always be "Gimme A Pigfoot," from Bessie's final recording session and released at the lowest point of the Great Depression. Admittedly, I'm no expert about music of this era. If anyone has analysis of this song, I'd love to hear it. It seems like she's mocking high brow society at the opening of the record and then celebrating Black culture for the rest of the song. Certainly "party songs" tend to be popular in eras of great struggle, as people welcome distraction. Give this a listen and draw your own conclusions.
In this era of the #BlackLivesMatter civil rights movement, certainly Bessie's story is poignant. The greatest entertainment star of her era essentially died because she was refused medical treatment due to her race. I'm thankful her story is being told in a very high profile way and hopefully the media will draw some connections to what's still happening today.
Loretta Lynn (Webb) was born on this day in 1932 bringing with her a tidal wave of feminist country music and 2-named siblings who would follow in her footsteps (Peggy Sue and Crystal Gayle I'm looking at you). It brings me great joy to say that she launched her music career in the Pacific Northwest (in the state of Washington) and she's been cookin' with Crisco ever since. Which is apropos since Crisco parties were a BIG deal up in this region.
She was often imitated but never duplicated. What Loretta brought us was unprecedented REALNESS (to use a term popular in the Queer community) in popular country music. Though at the time she didn't identify as a feminist, by most other standards that's exactly what she was. Her songs have a recurring theme of a woman advocating for her own needs and rights. And though some of her songs in which she threatens to punch or shoot another lady over the ownership rights to a particular man may not promote sisterhood in a feminist way, I can still appreciate her willingness to defend her "property". I guess I'm guilty of giving her a free pass on that. "It'll Be Open Season On You" is a real guilty pleasure for me.
My selection of the day was not written by Loretta, but it's representative of the spirit of her music, and demonstrates that themes emerging in country music were not far from the radical ideas in popular music at the time.
I would like to extend an enormous HAPPY 75th BIRTHDAY to Lester Chambers of the Chamber Brothers, who's still out there playing music.
Lester launched an online campaign a couple of years ago to increase awareness of the unfair business practices of record labels that were experienced by artists throughout the 20th century. The Chambers Brothers, whose record "Time Has Come Today" remains a classic of the psych-soul era still heard regularly today, did not receive any royalties from 1967 - 1994 - A shameful way to treat a band who used their music to create positive change.
The Chambers Brothers started out as a gospel group, but soon took to the stages of the folk scene of the early 1960s. By the end of the decade they were electrified and had pioneered a sound unlike any other. Like much of the music I have come to love, it's hard to draw boundaries around the music of the Chambers Brothers. They are all at once rock n roll, psych-rock, psych-soul, gospel, blues, folk. Perhaps this is why their record label was never able to repeat the success of "Time Has Come Today", for there was no lack of interesting output by this band. Perhaps the label didn't really know how to promote them.
Since it's Lester's birthday, I've chosen to highlight a song written by him. This has been a staple in my collection since the very beginning of my live DJ career. It's the perfect bridge into Latin soul and one of my all-time favorite summertime songs. Almost a guaranteed floor-filler.
Happy Birthday Lester! Thank you for your gift!
DJ Action Slacks
I'm excited to highlight some of my favorite records in a variety of genres (soul, R&B, classic country, rockabilly, oldies, garage rock, etc). These won't all necessarily be "dance" records per se. They will all be records that I believe deserve a special listen. I simply love good music, rare or not. Hopefully you will spend some time here and love music right along with me! Lets give this a shot!