I had made a full jar of bone broth from ten spent drumsticks. This is easy with an Instant Pot. You put the bones in the pot with water up to the line, and you turn it on for 120 minutes, and it pulverizes the bones and mines all the good stuff from within. So this big jar of schmaltz was just there in my refrigerator, teasing me, I either gotta use it or freeze it. But it’s chicken noodle soup season so let’s go for it.
Three chicken breasts got seasoned and cooked in a slightly-greased cast iron skillet, three minutes a side on the stove top, then 7 minutes a side in a 400-degree oven. I’d go more like five minutes next time as the meat is still a little stringy.
Deglazed the pan with most of a can of store-bought chicken broth and some white wine, this gave me two more cups of flavorful liquid. Stuck the pan bqck in the oven to dry, then brought it out to cool and chopped five carrots and two celery stalks plus all the leaves, all chopping besides the leaves done on the bias. These went into a mixing bowl tossed with salt and rested for ten minutes, then tossed with a bit of oil and into the cast iron skillet, into the oven at 400 for 20 minutes to roast.
As many egg noodles and schmaltzy liquid that would go to the fill line went into the instant pot, and cooked for two minutes. A small amount of noodles did not fit. I just boiled those.
I like noodles via pressure-cook with some flavorful liquid. Rather than boiling with water, you are pressure cooking with salty yummy liquid, hopefully blasting that flavor into the noodles. Plus, it is quicker and there is no draining.
Now all ingredients into the pot. The noodles with the schmaltzy liquid, the roasted vegetables, the carved chicken breast, any other leftover liquidy yems, stir, and enjoy.
As I noted before in this space, there was a happening in the little lake resort town where I spent the best summers ever as a kid. Edinboro for many years relied on these cement obelisk figures to indicate names of streets, white background with black text. But these were supplanted some years ago by real street signs that I assume would be easier to read from, say, the cab of a fire truck. But the little white towers remained.
This summer, these became a painting project. All yinz had to do was to claim a post and you would get to paint it. My longtime neighbor Tom Brown didn’t claim one soon enough to get one in his neighborhood, but he did get a nice site down on Lakeside. And he painted it in green and yellow and black stripes, and I knew immediately that this was a tribute to Edward Van Halen.
(Tom later included the poster during an artists’ tour to provide context.)
These posts were officially complete by early October. Tom’s post would be more timely than any of us would have liked. Edward Van Halen died Oct. 6. I don’t think Tom Brown had any sort of premonition. But I do wonder if he felt a disturbance in the Force or something. It would not surprise me. Van Halen fans are grounded like that.
My own encounters with Van Halen were initially fleeting; I remember hearing “Dance the Night Away” on the radio, that’s right about 1979. But I was fished in entirely in 1982 when the cover of Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Streets” started getting airplay. There are things going on in that song sonically that just should not exist and I am certain had never existed previously. It would not be long until I would have a homemade cassette of Diver Down playing from my boom box, sometimes strapped to my back as I biked across town to see friends.
And there was a lot of catching up to do. Van Halen. Van Halen II. Women and Children First. Fair Warning. Soon these cassettes were gobbled up regularly by me, often with bulky headphones on and turned up loud. How else are you going to dig “In a Simple Rhyme” as thoroughly as possible? And Fair Warning, that was my leaf-raking jam. Not much else could help that drudgery pass like “Mean Street” through “One Foot Out the Door.”
“I was at my house in Hollywood, and in my studio, I was using my guitar, my rig, my pedals, my amps,” Vai says. “And Edward came in. We were just hanging out and talking, and he says to me, ‘Let me show you this one thing I was working on.’
“And he takes my guitar and he starts playing and I realized instantly that it was Edward Van Halen. It didn’t sound anything like me. It had that ‘brown sound’. It was everything we love about Ed’s tone. He was playing my exact gear, and it sounded like him.”
Later in the Guitar World interview, Vai copped: “I could never play like him. I never tried. Only an idiot competes with Eddie Van Halen.”
Because learning the technique is mighty impressive. However—and forgive me if this sounds a bit obvious—being Edward Van Halen was something only that guy could do. He brought the technique, but he also brought the joy and the genius. I may tend to harp on Diver Down because it is not only my favorite Van Halen record, but it is my favorite rock album of all time. Funny that the brothers weren’t so fond of it. I mean what was Eddie doing when he laid down the guitar for “Dancing in the Streets?” I’m thinking he sped up the Purdie Shuffle and made it come out his guitar. Something like that. How else do you explain how he painted the air with those notes?
I think I adore Diver Down among other reasons because it sounds so analog and so basic. I feel like they ran everything through an Electro-Harmonix Memory Man, and it works. “Secrets” may be the most stripped down thing the Van Halens ever did, forward rock and roll, simple perfection on the guitar parts, Roth’s dreamy lyrics and vocals. And Diver Down birthed “Cathedral,” and the “Little Guitars” suite. I for one think Diver Down is Van Halen at its best.
Don’t get me wrong. I dove with all my might into 1984, which soon supplanted Mean Street as a companion to my Saturday leaf-sweeping drudgery. 1984 was like something you’d loved secretly for years and then, suddenly, it exploded and got all over everybody. Who wasn’t blasting “Panama” that year? “Hot for Teacher?”
Then came 1985, when we heard that David Lee Roth had left the band. And
Then came 1986, when the new big green album called 5150 was released. Sam Hagar introduced himself to Van Halen fans with a Big Bopper nod and the rest was history. Hello, baby! Indeed.
And so began the existential challenge of the Van Halen fan. What is Van Halen? Are you good with Van Halen led by Mister I Can’t Drive 55? Mister Three Lock Box? I don’t know about you, but while I enjoyed albums from the Van Hagar era, it was still like rubbing your earlobe 20 years later, wondering where that earring went.
Something was missing.
I am skipping Van Halen III completely for obvious reasons.
In February 2012, Van Halen released its twelfth album, A Different Kind of Truth, and now today after learning yesterday that Edward Van Halen had stopped refusing to die, my appreciation for this album has blown up even more.
When I put this sucker on, I feel like I’m there again with my large headphones on, rockin’ out to “Love in a Simple Rhyme.” There’s something refreshing about Truth, a sense of familiarity. By the time I get to “Bullethead,” I think I realize it: This feels like a Van Halen album. Not 1984, not a Van Hagar era please-please-like-us-we’re-van-halen record.
This is why I am forever grateful to Wolfgang Van Halen, Edward’s son, who was reportedly quite the spark for Truth. Because I think the album provides quite the service to the average Van Halen fan. It provides context to the existential problem of Van Halen: What is Van Halen?
To me Truth reinforces what I thought all along. Van Halen is the brothers Van Halen and Diamond David Lee Roth. Other iterations may have had the brand, but this album brings new VH material to light and shows what the band can do when the correct energies are present.
Anyway. Losing Edward Van Halen this year was just icing on the cake I guess. Wolfie’s tribute is probably the best thing to end with. I look forward to seeing what else the kid comes up with.
I’ve looked for years for evidence that Frank Zappa knew that Jaco Pastorius existed.
I have just found it astonishing that their paths never crossed or, more to the point, that Jaco never played for a Frank Zappa outfit.
I’m guessing that Jaco’s reputation as being somewhat of a showboater or his reputation for utilizing certain chemical substances preceded him. Or maybe Jaco was too busy making Joni Mitchell sound even more amazing.
However. This year, I have found a small, but reassuring, nexus. Cue drummer Chad Wackerman. Just for fun, we’ll drop in right at a drum break with Wackerman, Chester Thompson, and Terry Bozzio (this was originally broadcast via The Drum Channel, after all):
“I was a percussion major at Juilliard. I mean this was back in the times of dynasties in music. I thought that I would love it. And all of that derailed for me, it just crashed and burned, when I heard my first Frank Zappa concert. I just suddenly realized, I don’t want to be a timpanist in an orchestra. And I don’t want to be a triangle player in an orchestra, to have to sit in the back row onstage to play my three triangle notes. That was not anything that appealed to me from the moment I heard Frank’s music. And it’s not that I was inexperienced as a listener with other popular music, or music theater or any of that. Frank embodied everything, everything that showed me in that one concert that I wanted to do that. I would sit in my orchestration classes at Juilliard, in my baroch history, these classes taught by the greatest people on Earth. One day, I was in one of the piano practice rooms, and I was absolutely not even allowed to be there because that’s ‘just for the pianists.’ And there I would be trying to recall the melody or the melodic shape of ‘Oh No.’ Nobody was there, and on this fabulous grand piano, I played that piece to the best of my recollection. And I can tell you, probably within 30 seconds, an officer of the school came in, ‘what are you doing?’ I’m just playing this beautiful music. ‘It doesn’t sound like any music you are supposed to be playing here.’ And I said, it’s 20th century music, what are you talking about? It’s by a living composer. ‘Get out.’ And, if you want to hear that piece on the piano, it could live in a concert hall, it was that type of music that he could produce that was a product of everything that was in him, but you couldn’t really categorize it. You couldn’t say oh yeah, that’s rock and roll, because it wasn’t. It’s jazz, no, it really wasn’t. It’s pop music, no, not at all. Well, what the hell is it?
And I knew that it had changed my life. That’s the thing. I didn’t live my life and then look back on it and go yeah, that was the life-changing moment. I walked out of that theater and I was actually disoriented. My whole world had been shaken up.” (Ruth Underwood, in the beautiful documentary, Zappa)
For many years, I have spent some time and space at this point in the Zappadan holiday space celebrating and acknowledging the birthday of one Richard Wayne Penniman, due to his significant influence on Zappa and to rock and roll generally, and of course, his contribution of one of Zappa’s finest sonic achievements, the performance of the Penniman-penned “Directly From My Heart” from the album Weasels Ripped My Flesh, featuring the astonishing Sugarcane Harris on fiddle and lead vocal.
Here’s an early recording of the tune by its tunesmith:
It was 2013 when I came across a vital book, David Kirby’s Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll, which argues convincingly that while many casual music fans may relegate Little Richard to the novelty act bin, Little Richard was, indeed, one of the most earth-shaking forces in rock. And, Kirby is absolutely right. Before him, everybody crooned. After him, more and more they wanted to howl. Little Richard led the way; he taught everyone else what sort of energy to bring to the party. He was the Architect.
And every year I write this here, and every year, I’d fantasize that there would be a comment from the man himself. This year I don’t even have that. Because this is the first year we observe Dec. 5 without him here to make the planet prettier. Yes, Little Richard stopped refusing to die in May 2020. He was 87.
Of this he was well aware. The linked article above offers a bit of video that cracks me up: Richard at the 1988 Grammy Awards. Watch him state the obvious. Watch the audience’s reaction. Every human in that building gave up the standing O to Little Richard taking his well-deserved credit. Because sometimes the truth just rings out.
Take solace, though: Little Richard was bestowed a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 1993, not to mention four Grammy Hall of Fame recognitions for “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Lucille,” and the album Here’s Little Richard.
In the July 2020 Rolling Stone tribute, they let Richard have the last word, as quoted from his 1971 album, King of Rock and Roll. I’ma swipe the quote and do the same here:
“We got everybody here tonight. We got black folk. We got white folk. We got red folk. We got brown folk. We got yellow folk. We got real folk. We got love folk. I want you all to know that I’m here tonight, and I’ve been talking about love for a long time. Because, honey, I’m the man that started it all. The Emancipator of Soul and the King of Rock & Roll, from Macon, Georgia. I want you to know that I’m here to be offered tonight in the fullness. That the beauty is still on duty. Let it all hang out with the beautiful Little Richard from down in Macon, Georgia. I want you all to know that I am the Georgia Peach. Let all the womenfolk say ‘Whoooooo!’ Let all the men say ‘Ugh! Oooh, my soul.’ A man walked up to me yesterday and said, ‘Little Richard, don’t you know that James Brown can beat you dancing?’ I said, ‘Beat me dancing? But have you ever thought about that he don’t look like me?’ Shut up! I am the star. And don’t you ever forget it.”