Monthly Archives: January 2017

The Box Tops (YGtCTO Music #37)

The Letter

Song written by Wayne Carson Thompson
Performed by The Box Tops

Think of almost any song that you liked from a 60s American pop group and they probably did not record it. They likely performed the vocals, but that was about it. Studio time cost money. Top 40 songs generated a lot of income. Many of the songs were not composed by the artists. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and a few others set a bar too high for most other groups.

In the mid-60s, the Box Tops burst out of Memphis with The Letter, a magnificent song that they recorded, though written by someone else. Currently, it is believed the rest of their first album was recorded by studio musicians with Chilton’s vocals.

The Box Tops

In retrospect, we know that The Box Tops had some great musicians in the band and they could write some pretty decent songs themselves. In practice, the immense success of The Letter sent the band out on a never-ending tour. As well, the record company was inspired to release three Box Tops albums in nine months. Yes, Alex Chilton is 17 in that video clip- younger when he recorded the song. He sang lead on that and Cry Like a Baby and Soul Deep. Also, he started getting the occasional song onto a record.

Understandably, The Box Tops imploded within just a few years. After all, the music thing couldn’t last. Some went off for real jobs or college. I suspect the grind was too much, also. From the outside, art might look like a great way of life, but the life of an independent contractor who only eats when they create ain’t all magic and unicorns. Sometimes, there are unicorns, but they have pointy sticks on their heads.

As all of us know,
Big Star rose out of the ashes. They went on to record #1 Record and their massive hit, The Ballad of El Goodo, the greatest song recorded during the 70s.

Damn, you could almost cry thinking about lost opportunities. I’m not talking about lost opportunities for Chilton and his Big Star mates. I’m talking about us as a culture. Wouldn’t you just trade a couple weeks of any disco song in the Top 40 to give all of us a taste of the beauty these guys had on offer?

Playing the what-if game for keeps, what about putting the Box Tops in the studio with George Martin or an equally open-minded producer? Let them put out, I don’t know, only two albums in those first twelve months.

We got what we got and I’ll never stop listening to the Box Tops and Big Star and their many, many offspring. But sometimes it helps to keep in mind those uncredited folks who helped and hindered that music to get from their hearts to our ears.

Maybe it’s sacrilege, but I was as upset when Alex Chilton died as when John Lennon passed. For both of them, I was at peak love for their art and craft at the moment they were suddenly gone too soon. I know we don’t weigh one loss against another- that’s a fool’s game. But our hearts know when something irreplaceable has gone forever.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 191 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.

Images may be subject to copyright.

Dear Justice Newbie

The Job of a Lifetime

Welcome to the Supreme Court, Justice Alito, the last job that you are likely to have. After this, it’s retirement and death with the latter guaranteed and the former likely to come only with ill health. So, this is as good as it’s going to get. Sure, you could hope to become Chief Justice some day, but only four out of the mere sixteen Chief Justices have ever been elevated from within the Court.

Besides, you’ll be lucky to outlast Roberts unless you want to go all Borgia in the Court cafeteria. That’s unlikely though, since the gravitational pull of the legislature would have attracted you by now if you had any leanings toward mosh pits and switchblades. You got here because you’re a workaholic and you like making decisions for people too overheated to negotiate. Moreover, you think you know stuff and feel clever in small groups. Your horoscope predicts great things every day.

Seriously, you got this position because you managed not to piss off the President when you spent some time together. Other people had already vetted you, so what did the two of you have to discuss? If the law even came up, then I would be surprised. He suspects you won’t damage his popularity too much and might secretly push forward his agenda long after he’s climbed off his mountain bike for good.

Generally speaking, Supreme Court Justices have minds of their own and realize that once sworn in, they can do whatever they want. After all, it’s now your legacy, not some President who screamed across the horizon like a shooting star. No Justice has ever been impeached, let alone removed from office. Be careful though, you are liable to lose your “common touch,” if you ever had one or wanted one. Only eight other people in the country have a similar gig. And all of you went to law school.

Let’s face it, your new post turns out to have very little to do with agendas, at least the kind that generate a lot of press and decades of editorializing. Your daily schedule will involve sitting around chatting with your clerks and thinking deep thoughts. Even so, no one is marching around outside the court waving placards and chanting “Down With Gonzales v. Raich!” It’s still Roe v. Wade and little else. Considering that during the Court’s last session rulings came down on criminal sentencing, environmental law, capital punishment, eminent domain, and marijuana, you would think that people might have moved on. This is the judiciary, not the legislature, as you will constantly have to remind family members over hot dogs and potato salad during the summer break.

Speaking of defending your life, wasn’t that Congressional hearing fun? You probably feel some resentment. Hard to believe every nominee does not become bellicose after that ordeal? Perhaps you could work through your anger by popping wheelies in the parking garage rather than ruling against an endangered species?

Let’s remember, the Court is reactionary (though I’m sure we’ll be talking about this a lot). Someone has to bring the case before it. Justices do not ride around the countryside like medieval knights righting wrongs. The Court exists because people do not get along. The Court exists because reasonable minds disagree. It exists because elected officials can go too far. The Court is not the Supreme Court of U.S. Law Schools. The Court is not the world’s most exclusive club.

You may be there for life, but you still serve at the will of the people. And the people want wisdom, not ideology. Yes, you will be a topic of conversation during the year (Mostly “Alito gave good hearing” not “Alito writes swell opinions.”). In very general terms, ideological pedagogues on the Court often prove wiser than expected. And maybe wisdom does rise from the shadows. Hindsight may be our surest guide, which is why you need to think about the past so much.

So, you and your colleagues will walk the magical giggle path of this session together, prodding each other about the choices that you make. You’ll visit more history than any current doctoral thesis in any U.S. college (remembering that you have become history alongside your famous predecessors and their decisions). Over these months, commentators will attempt to deconstruct the legalese that is thrown around and figure out what you’re really trying to accomplish. You may even take a side trip to legal ethics in the hope of reassuring the populace along with ourselves.

By the by, no disrespect is intended by the “Newbie” nickname. A part of me wanted to conclude this missive with “sucks to be you,” so I do understand that your job is hard enough without hearing “Yo, Newbie” echoing down the halls whenever Scalia wants somebody to run to the cafeteria for a cola. On the other hand, the Supreme Court is the ultimate collection of know-it-all alphas and nobody loves a good nickname quite as much as an alpha male. Best wishes for a safe and wise term.


Ben Edlund (YGtCTO #108)

The Tick

Comic created by Ben Edlund

I don’t think that it is any great secret that artists need a certain degree of hubris in order to be artists. You don’t create something from nothing without a bit of an ego. Sure, Emily Dickinson never showed a single poem to another living soul. That would be entirely untrue, by the way.

Even the most precious of us who create only for ourselves have an intended audience. We might look askance at the final product, but we still had the courage to initiate the effort. Enough tries and we develop a certain degree of pride in what we make.

That said, I read a lot- all sort of things, but that’s part of the deal if you want to write. I try to get to museums and concerts, too. You can only have output if you have input. If you are around when the hankering comes along, then I might make you go with me. My parents were always good for a trip to the museum, especially the Butler where my Mom volunteered for many years. Whenever we first came upon a painting, they shared one initial criteria in their opinions before they diverged. Could they have painted it themselves? For my Dad, the answer yes was not a compliment.

I am my Father’s son, but I recognize the rights of the first arrival. Just because I might be capable of creating a similar story or play does not mean that I have done so. Your fortitude and creativity and good fortune have done you proud. You may even have blown my mind, but enough reading and enough writing have granted me enough knowledge to see the craft at work. In short, I see what you did there. Well done.

Every now and then,
I come across something that I know deep in my heart was not coming out of me. I’m not talking about my lack of patience. I do not mean in a life experience sense. Essentially, we are talking about something that I was never going to manage. A little bit of magic seems to have gotten into the brew.

Ben Edlund

About the same time that The Tick cartoon debuted, I happened to live in Boston, where I could stumble on the original comic book. Both were created by Edlund. The comic, which he wrote and drew, started when he was in high school. I think that would make him the Mozart of comic books.

You can see where I am going with this.

As a teenager, I could never have created The Tick #1. More than that, I don’t think I could do it now, and not only because my drawings of people look like misshapen mushrooms. Humor is hard in a static medium. The pacing required to sell a joke is usually mastered over years. Building humor out of characters is hard to do if you can’t build characters. Edlund got a lot right in those comics and cartoons in a way that I doubt I could now.

Read and watch for yourself. Those little thoughts start crawling up from the depths of your creative heart. Mad genius at work. Sit back and enjoy the alchemy.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 192 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.

Images may be subject to copyright.