Bang Envy - Linda Ronstadt

I owe this entire Bang Envy post to the soundtrack that plays at my job... Every so often "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" comes on the stereo and everyone sings along to Linda Ronstadt. This made me dig a little deeper. After all, if everyone knows this song there must have been a time when La Ronstadt was on constant rotation. When was said idyll of pop music? Probably in the 1980s sometime on a soft-rock station, but why judge? The fact remains that Linda Ronstadt is a bona fide legend in her own time, and one who continues to bring the talent well into her sixties. According to her Wikipedia page:

"In total, she has released over 30 solo albums, more than 15 compilations or greatest hits albums. Ronstadt has charted thirty-eight Billboard Hot 100 singles, twenty-one of which have reached the top 40, ten of which have reached the top 10, three peaking at No. 2, the No. 1 hit, "You're No Good". In the UK, her single "Blue Bayou" reached the UK Top 40and the duet with Aaron Neville, "Don't Know Much", peaked at #2 in December 1989. In addition, she has charted thirty-six albums, ten Top 10 albums, and three No. 1 albums on the Billboard Pop Album Charts."

Doing research on early Ronstadt I found some amazing pictures of her which show her as a fresh young singer capitalizing on the sweetspot between country, pop, and rock, and bringing the style to match. In her early days, Ronstadt seems to play up the look of an innocent young flower child, but within all of her cuteness there's an incredible amount of sex appeal. It's the best combination of the All-American Girl.

Born in Tucson, AZ of Mexican and German parents, Ronstadt began singing at 14 with her brother Pete and sister Suzy. At 17, she dropped out of college after just one semester and moved to Los Angeles where she met up with Bob Kimmel - a friend from home. Together they started a band called the Stone Poneys with Kenny Edwards in 1966. But just a few years later, in 1969, Ronstadt went out on her own.

The cover of Evergreen, Volume 2 by the Stone Poneys from 1967.

In 1968.

On the Johnny Cash Show in 1969. At 22, Ronstadt was invited for her first appearance on the Johnny Cash Show; during the rehearsal, June Carter Cash noted that the singer wasn't wearing any panties. Ronstadt's tart reply? "I sing better bare-butted."

Maria Muldaur, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, and Jim Beam in 1974.

Blazing a trail for "girl singers" in the 1970s, Ronstadt experienced the pressures and difficulties of relating to men musicians on a professional level. In a 1969 interview in Fusion magazine, she said it was difficult being a "chick singer" with an all-male backup band. But, finding her stride, she went on to become the most successful female singer of the 1970s with such albums as Heart Like a Wheel, Prisoner in Disguise, Hasten Down the Wind, and Simple Dreams.

All of her albums offer solid pop tunes that crossover easily into Country. Her mix of genres shows her complete vocal and stylistic versatility which was furthered later on in her career when Ronstadt recorded a number of albums of traditional Mexican folk and Ranchera music.

Also notable for her public romances, Ronstadt dated then California governor Jerry Brown, and was also engaged to George Lucas in the mid-1980s. Ultimately though, she adopted two children in the 1990s by herself and has never married. She remains a steadfast supporter of women's rights, gay rights, and is a vocal advocate of national arts programs. Most recently, Ronstadt spoke out against her home state of Arizona's controversial SB1070 illegal-immigration law, participating in a National Day of Action in January 2010.

On a trip to Africa with Jerry Brown in 1979.

The famous Rolling Stone cover from December, 1976. Image by Annie Leibovitz.

And what about "Poor Poor Pitiful Me"? Well, I ended up downloading Ronstadt's Simple Dreams album and have been listening to it on constant rotation. It is indeed a classic album for the ages, and if you don't have it, you should get it. To offer you another quote from Wikipedia:

At the end of 1977 Ronstadt surpassed the success of Heart Like A Wheel with her album Simple Dreams, which held the #1 position for five consecutive weeks on the Billboard Album Chart. It also knocked Elvis Presley out of #1 on Billboard's Country Albums chart. It sold over 3½ million copies in less than a year in the US alone. The album was released in September 1977, and by December, it had replaced Fleetwood Mac's long running #1 album Rumours in the top spot. Simple Dreams spawned a string of hit singles on numerous charts. Among them were the RIAA platinum-certified single "Blue Bayou", a Country Rock interpretation of a Roy Orbison song, "It's So Easy" – previously sung by Buddy Holly – and "Poor Poor Pitiful Me", a song written by Warren Zevon. The album, garnered several Grammy Award nominations – including Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance/Female for "Blue Bayou" – and won its art director, Kosh, a Grammy Award for Best Album Cover, the first of three Grammy Awards he would win for designing Ronstadt album covers.

Simple Dreams became one of the singer's most successful international selling albums as well, reaching #1 on the Australian and Canadian Pop and Country Albums charts.Simple Dreams also made Ronstadt the most successful international female touring artist as well. The same year, she completed a highly successful concert tour around Europe. As, Country Music Magazine, wrote in October 1978, Simple Dreams solidified Ronstadt's role as "easily the most successful female rock and roll and country star at this time."

Bang Envy - Astrud Gilberto

Oh Astrud...! Her naive lilting voice has served as the gateway drug for so many intense jazz addictions. The kind that commence around the third year of college over cheap bottles of wine, and alternating pulls between the bong and the pack of Camel Lights. Somewhere, late at night, between Led Zeppelin II and Kind of Blue comes Getz/Gilberto or Beach Samba. At that moment the only thing that holds you steady in the smoky darkness are the many colorful mosaic glow candles and the voice of Astrud Gilberto.

Born in Bahia and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Astrud Weinert married musician João Gilberto, the "Father of Bossa Nova", in 1959. In 1964, his shy young wife was unexpectedly prompted to sing "The Girl from Ipanema" during a recoring of the seminal Bossa Nova album, Getz/Gilberto, an album which featured not only the Gilbertos, but also Antonio Carlos Jobim and Stan Getz. This airy single went on to become an internation hit, reaching #5 in the United States and charting highly throughout the world. This song, as well as her version of "Corcovado" on the same album made Astrud Gilberto a household name and launched her career as a vocalist.

Astrud Gilberto and husband João Gilberto.

Singing with Stan Getz (left) in the mid-1960s.

During her early days as a star, Astrud Gilberto had a very wholesome, coiffed look. Her simple shyness seems to come through in the smooth, sweet hairstyles of bouffants and flips. After the Gilbertos emigrated to the United States, the couple became estranged; while the reasons are unclear, it is believed to be due to João Gilberto's increasing drug use and Astrud Gilberto's romantic affair with musician Stan Getz.

After the Gilbertos divorced and her own career began to grow, Astrud Gilberto's sweet style gave way to a sensual sexiness in her style and imagery. The well-coiffed 'dos became windblown, beachy, and adorably unkempt - a look that was perfectly in tune with the late-1960s hippie vibe.

The image that became the cover for Astrud Gilberto's Beach Samba album.

The Girl from Ipanema: Sexified

Astrud Gilberto continues to write, record, and perform music today. She lives in the United States, choosing a very private, reclusive life out of the media glare, and never gives interviews.  But her fans are legion and continue to grow. Long live the Girl from Ipanema!

Film: A Summer Place

When The Traditionalist and A Continuous Lean wrote about Bert Stern's 1960 film Jazz on a Summer's Day last summer, I immediately added it to my Netflix queue. Of course, being a bit of a movie maniac, my queue is rather long, so I only watched this film this week. I should have known better. Based upon my own experience when writing about films, when someone blogs a film, it means watch it - now.

I've made this mistake before of course, with Days of Heaven and Un Homme et Une Femme, so I hope I've learned my lesson.

Let me just say that this little documentary is one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen. Filmed during the 1958 Jazz Festival in Newport, RI, the film captures a weekend of American style, music, and relaxation that is just as vibrant fifty years later. In fact, I am surprised that this film isn't more of a stylistic touchstone, a la Grey Gardens, Petulia, or BlowUp. The style is just amazing, capturing a time of fresh-faced beauty and casualness that was still untouched by the Kennedy-era polish. Two days of music, sunshine, green grass, rocks, ocean, old cars, sailboats, beer, and cigarettes. If anyone has ever looked for a record of mid-century American sportswear, this is the film to watch. The hats, eyeglasses, colors, haircuts and even lipstick shades are clean and stylish, and while clearly of their own time, there is still a strong relevance today.

Still Image from A Continuous LeanIndeed, Ralph Lauren's entire body of work could be based upon this film.

Bert Stern adapted his experience with fashion and advertising photography to create a film that's really "moving still pictures," as he explained in the short feature on the DVD. It certainly shows. For me it was the colors that were so vibrant - a shot of a little girl running on a lawn in red shorts with a blue innertube is just gorgeous. A panning shot of a young woman in a turquoise blue-on-blue polkadot sheath with a yellow tweed hat and straw basket takes her in from foot to head, and literally made me gasp with delight. I also loved the colorful, wavy, moving water shots at the beginning which look strikingly similar to the Abstract Expressionist paintings being created at this time. Every frame is artistic, composed, balanced, and beautiful.

But with all of this beauty, there is still a relaxed easyness that captures the pure fun and enjoyment of the festival. People were there for the music and the togetherness. There is a staged segment of film that's a bit incongruous: a "party" with people dancing on a rooftop, and while it captures the overall mood of the weekend, I'd trade this bit of staged film in for more candid shots of the musicians and the audience.

As a fan of jazz however, the musical part falls a little bit short. Anita O'Day's set is fantastic, but most of the others, including Louis Armstrong's, have been shown to better advantage elsewhere. (True, some of my favorites, like Gerry Mulligan, did not get nearly enough screen time to merit a better judgment.) But this film is much more about the look and mood of a late-1950s summer day in America, and the music is more background to the visuals.

It's wintertime now, but if you want that summertime mood, I highly suggest getting your hands on a copy of this movie! It's a lovely cure for the winter greys...