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2005-04-20

Blue Notes By Buddy Blue

This week, we combine two of my favorite subjects, music and mayhem, in a speculative analysis of what might have happened had a few rock & roll rivalries been carried to their logical, violent conclusions. In short, which rock stars could theoretically beat up their adversaries?

THE COMBATANTS: Elvis Presley vs. Gene Vincent THE BACKGROUND: Vincent was accused of being an Elvis impersonator when he topped the charts with "Be Bop A Lula" in 1956; in fact, Vincent had been signed to Capitol Records specifically to challenge Presley and RCA. Although Vincent never achieved anything resembling the commercial triumphs of Elvis, opinions rage to this day among the rockabilly set as to whom was the superior performer; the all- time legend or the shadowy cult favorite? THE RESULT: Elvis was clearly the larger and more beefy of the two, and to make matters worse for Vincent, he had a gimp leg; hence, this looks like a mismatch on paper. However, Elvis wanted to love you tender and be your teddy bear, whereas Vincent - the ultimate '50s rock & roll delinquent - was all about stealing your hubcaps, lifting your wallet and doing unspeakable things to your sister (or mom). Elvis clocks Gene with a volley of solid blows, but in the end, a reeling Vincent pulls out a shiv and guts Elvis like a sideburned trout. Fight over; score one for the dark side.

THE COMBATANTS: Little Richard vs. Pat Boone THE BACKGROUND: Li'l Dick was rock & roll's ultimate wildman; a dynamic whirlwind of raw energy and talent. Boone was the definitive vanilla bean; so tame and wholesome as to make Ward Cleaver look ghetto-funky. So guess who sold more records, guess who did so by releasing bleached-out cover versions of the others' most ferocious sides, and guess who spent the rest of his life vociferously unamused by this turn of events? THE RESULT: A wuss war of epic proportions! They didn't call Richard "Little" 'cause he was gonna give anyone pause in a brawl; and he, too, suffered a bum leg. To top it all off, Richie was and remains manly as Richard Simmons sporting pigtails in San Quentin. Boone, for his part, was the living definition of the goody-two-shoes tattletale weenie who was scared to take a shower after gym class and carried his books like a girl. After much frenzied slapping, scratching and pulling of hair, the two combatants quit at exactly the same time to run home to tell God on one another; the result of this bout is declared a draw.

THE COMBATANTS: The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones THE BACKGROUND: From the moment the Beatles first stormed the charts, the media was in a frenzy to name a group to supplant them in popularity. Common candidates included Gerry & the Pacemakers, the Dave Clark Five and the Monkees, but the only band that truly gave the moptops a long-term run for their money was the Stones. Nevermind that Mick and the lads were always a step behind the Beatles' innovations -- to this day, many insist that the Stones were the superior group. THE RESULT: No matter your take on the music, it's like this: the Stones were wannabe bad boys from the suburbs of London, while the Beatles were genuine badasses from tough, blue collar Liverpool. John Lennon, in particular, was known as an inveterate brawler in the Beatles' early years; there's even been speculation that Stu Sutcliffe actually died from a beating Lennon laid on him. Sorry, Stones supporters; Mick, Keef, Bri and the rest wind up crying in the laps of their St. John's Wood mums, licking their many Beatle-inflicted wounds.

THE COMBATANTS: The Beach Boys vs. The Four Seasons THE BACKGROUND: Take two bands from opposite coasts whose respective commercial primes were in the '60s and whose sound was based on falsetto harmony, and you've got yourself a serious natural

rivalry going. We'll let Frankie Valli himself explain further: "The Beach Boys were the West Coast and we were the East Coast. They were very whitebread and we were kids from the ghetto, from the wrong side of the tracks. 'Now east coast girls are hip, I really dig those styles they weeeeear'... ha ha ha ha!!" THE RESULT: Need I elaborate? Fuhgeddabouddit. Take the cast of "The Sopranos," put 'em in the ring against the cast of "Six Feet Under," and you tell me what happens. This one's ugly, and while you have to feel sorry for poor, addled Brian, can you name a single human being more deserving of a brutal dago- whupping than Mike Love?

Still to come: Dylan vs. Donovan, Ike vs. Tina, Jethro Tull vs. Metallica, Toby Keith vs. Dixie Chicks, Eminem vs. Jacko, etc.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> By Buddy Blue

Among one segment of graying music fans, the name Gordon Lightfoot conjures up nostalgia for an era when mainstream FM radio hosted a roster of quality, intelligent singer/songwriters, performing tunes that became intimate reflections of their lives.

A different segment has less fond memories, believing the anemic soft-rockers who dominated the airwaves of the '70s were a plague upon this country's pop culture, blissfully and deservedly consigned to the dustbin by the punk rock movement at decade's end.

While hardly a fan of insipid '70s radio, allow me to suggest a re-evaluation of Gordon Lightfoot is in order among those harboring the latter judgment. Lightfoot towers above the Fogelbergs, Loggins,' Denvers and Chapins he's often unfairly lumped together with.

While it's true that Lightfoot's hits were often maddeningly inescapable and some suffered from date- stamping over-production, he was and remains an artist of substance. In fact, Lightfoot warrants closer association with such critically celebrated Americana/folk artists as John Prine, Dave Alvin and Guy Clark (or such fellow Canadians as the Band, Neil Young and Buffy St. Marie) than he does the aforementioned purveyors of pabulum.

Lightfoot possesses a significant repertoire of gifts: a uniquely moody voice, at once crusty and shimmering; a catalogue of songs that meld a traditionalist's intuition for history, a craftsman's flair for melody and a storyteller's knack for poetic melodrama; all put over with a vaguely melancholy persona that lends emotional authenticity to his work.

Too, Lightfoot's songbook is nothing if not versatile, from the unabashed tenderness of "Beautiful" and "If You Could Read My Mind" to the epic yarn-spinning of "Ghosts Of Cape Horn" and "The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald" to the wistful folk-pop of "Sundown" and "Carefree Highway."

These are only the songs you're familiar with. In fact, Lightfoot's career began a decade before he became a public presence, as he was writing hit songs for Peter, Paul & Mary, Ian & Sylvia, Marty Robbins, Bobby Bare and others.

The '70s, of course, was Lightfoot's Big Decade, as his output regularly marked the pop, country and adult contemporary charts. However, unlike fellow '70s singer/songwriters of similar success and substance (think Paul Simon, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, et. al.), Lightfoot faded into obscurity after his commercial trajectory had run its course. From 1986 to the present, Lightfoot has only released four albums of new material, and he rarely ventures out on tour.

This has been partially due to Lightfoot's apparent penchant for his native Canada, where he's revered as a national icon and has been the recipient of so many awards and honorariums he scarcely has any motivation to venture far from home base.

On the other hand, there have been personal demons and health problems to battle. Most significantly, Lightfoot suffered an abdominal hemorrhage in September of 2002 that placed him in a coma for a couple months and nearly did him in.

Lightfoot's first order of business upon recovery was to record a new album; his first in six years. "Harmony," released last Spring, featured a batch of new songs near equal in quality to anything Lightfoot ever composed, with simple, elegant arrangements that framed the material in a better light than his familiar, major label fare of the '70s. If Lightfoot's voice sounds thinner and weaker than we're used to; if recent photographs show him looking drawn and gaunt; well, factor in that Gord is pushing 70 years old these days while still recovering from a near-fatal illness.

Although he's played a handful of one-off concerts since his brush with mortality, this year marks Lightfoot's first full-fledged tour since he took ill; he'll perform locally at Sycuan Casino on Friday night, in a show that sold out well in advance.