Album #18: Neil Young, ‘Decade’

I’m guessing that the idea behind the sprawling Neil Young anthology “Decade” was that his career was on an irreversible downward arc. Why not cash in while he still had some record-store cachet?

As it turned out, Young had a long way to go. “Rust Never Sleeps,” one of his best albums, was released in 1979, just two years after “Decade.” “Freedom,” another classic, came 10 years after that (“Decade II”?), and he remains active and relevant. Still, “Decade” is a great introduction to one of the most remarkable musicians of our time, taking us from his early years with the Buffalo Springfield to his long solo career, with and without Crazy Horse, with pit stops along the way for Crosby, Still, Nash and Young and, for a nanosecond, the Stills-Young Band.

Young has two modes: acoustic singer-songwriter and all-out rocker. I prefer the loud stuff with Crazy Horse, featuring Young’s cosmic guitar solos (definitely the triumph of feel over technique), but I’ll listen to either anytime. “Decade” covers both phases of his work; even though it comprises 35 songs over just 10 years, he was so productive during that period that it still manages to leave out some my favorites, like “Out on the Weekend,” from 1972’s “Harvest.” On the other hand, “Decade” includes a “Harvest” clunker, “A Man Needs a Maid,” anti-feminist claptrap with strings that may be the only song you’ll want to skip over. (Trust me on this, kids: Evolving sensibilities aside, he was criticized for it 48 years ago.)

On the acoustic side, there are so many great songs here that it’s hard to narrow them down. Some have suffered from too much radio time over the years, like “Sugar Mountain,” “Heart of Gold,” and “After the Gold Rush.” Try listening to them with fresh ears, because they are truly for the ages.

Of the rockers, again, the list is endless. My favorite is “Like a Hurricane,” among the loudest, longest, most guitar-drenched songs Young ever recorded. But it’s hard to go wrong with anything here other than “Maid.” It’s two and a half hours of love songs, drug songs, lost-youth songs, and songs that appear to be about everything and nothing.

Bob Dylan once sang: “I’m listening to Neil Young, I gotta turn up the sound /
Someone’s always yellin’ ‘Turn it down.'”

Nope. Turn that sucker up to 11.

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A beautifully told story that offers nostalgia about local news but not much hope

The New York Times has published an article about Evan Brandt, the last reporter covering Pottstown, Pennsylvania. His paper, The Mercury, has been decimated by its owner, the notorious hedge fund Alden Global Capital. It’s a great story, beautifully written by Dan Barry, with superb visuals by Haruka Sakaguchi.

And yet the air of inevitability bugs me. Barry offers nostalgia, not hope. I’m not going to suggest that Brandt quit and start his own local news project — he’s in his 50s, has a kid in college and his wife his sick. But why doesn’t the community get together, start a news project and make Brandt the first hire?

Better yet: Why can’t LNP, the newspaper in nearby Lancaster, which is independently owned and reportedly doing well, hire Brandt for a Pottstown edition? Lancaster is probably a bit too far away to justify firing up the printing presses and the trucks. But a digital edition wouldn’t cost much, and would allow them to expand their paid subscription base — much as The Boston Globe did in Rhode Island.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

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Margaret Sullivan has written a useful guide to the horrifying decline of local news

What’s happened to local news in our medium-size city north of Boston is a story that could be told in hundreds of communities across the country.

Read the rest at Nieman Lab. And talk about this post on Facebook.

Contrary to buzz in the newsroom, Linda Henry says: ‘The Globe is not for sale’

Are John and Linda Henry looking to sell The Boston Globe? Folks in the newsroom have been wondering in recent weeks. But according to Linda Henry, the paper’s managing director, the answer is no.

Henry hosted a Zoom town hall for Globe employees earlier today. Among the questions she was asked, according to a source, was whether the departure of Boston Globe Media president Vinay Mehra last week was related to a possible sale. I contacted her a short time later, and she replied via email:

The question [at the town hall] was if Vinay’s departure had anything to do with our ownership status, which it absolutely doesn’t. This doesn’t affect our thinking or what we have said about stewarding this great institution. The Globe is not for sale, I’m pretty sure you would have picked up on if it was.

The idea that a sale might be under consideration gained steam recently when Sarah Betancourt reported reported in CommonWealth Magazine that — according to the Boston Newspaper Guild — the Henrys were “apparently insisting on the removal of a provision in the existing contract that would keep the contract terms intact if the newspaper is sold.” Management and the Guild have been enmeshed in acrimonious contract talks for quite some time.

Yet in most respects the Globe seems to be doing well, although its status as a profitable business probably came a sudden halt when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and advertising nosedived. The paper went over the long-hoped-for 200,000 mark in digital subscriptions recently, and hiring continues. Just today, editorial-page editor Bina Venkataraman announced that Kimberly Atkins would be leaving WBUR Radio and joining the opinion section as a Washington-based senior writer.

Editor Brian McGrory also announced ambitious plans just last week to improve the diversity of the Globe’s hiring, promotions and coverage.

Two years ago, John Henry responded to similar talk of a sale by saying: “I don’t think of selling any local assets during my lifetime. Linda and I love and are committed to this city.”

It sounds like that hasn’t changed.

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Album #19: Muddy Waters Day at Paul’s Mall

Muddy Waters with James Cotton in 1978. Photo via Wikipedia.

Like any suburban kid who ever picked up a guitar, I loved the blues. So when the old WBCN Radio announced that it would broadcast the Muddy Waters Day festivities live from Paul’s Mall, I was pretty excited. On June 15, 1976, I turned on my tape deck and managed to capture 48 minutes of musical magic.

No, you can’t buy the album. (Actually, maybe you can. See below.) But the Muddy Waters Day recording features the man born McKinley Morganfield at his finest, from the rollicking opener, “Caledonia,” to his stinging slide guitar on “Long Distance Call,” to his hits: “Mannish Boy,” “Hoochie Coochie Man” and, of course, his signature song, “Got My Mojo Working.” Waters grew up in Mississippi, the birthplace of the blues, and later moved to Chicago, where he was among the first blues musicians to go electric.

I’d long since ceased to have anything I could play the cassette on. But last year I bought a cheap little machine that converts old cassettes into MP3s. The tape was in better shape than I had imagined, and so now I can listen to it all over again. (To my surprise, it looks like you can buy it, along with a concert he gave at the Newport Folk Festival in 1960.)

Why no actual albums? Years ago I picked up the Johnny Winters-produced “Hard Again” as well as the Chess three-CD anthology. Good stuff, but just not as good. There was also a huge plus factor to the Paul’s Mall concert — I got to see him and his band the following night. So the tape — now an MP3 — also serves as a memento of a special night.

Waters was 63 when we saw him — an old man, we thought, though a little younger than I am now. He played for about half of a very long show, with his band taking the rest of it without him.

Toward the end of the night, he came up behind us and sat down as he waited to go back on stage. My friend and I suddenly realized we were in the presence of royalty. “Play ‘Mojo’!” my friend said excitedly. “Aw, you don’t want to hear that shit,” he replied.

He played “Mojo.” How could he not?

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The Mystic Valley Charter School is back in the news for how it treats Black students

The Mystic Valley Regional Charter School is back in the news for discriminatory behavior — this time for insensitive comments by a former trustee and flat-out racist remarks and disciplinary practices. The Boston Globe reports.

In 2017, we gave a WGBH News New England Muzzle Award to Mystic Valley for literally discriminating against Black hair.

You can tell a Mystic Valley administrator, but apparently you can’t tell them much.

Correction: My original post referred to comments by a trustee; he is in fact a former trustee who, until recently, remained involved in the school.

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The Globe, the Red Sox and a long-ago story of racism and sexual abuse

Now here’s an interesting media twist. Michael Rezendes, who did so much to expose Cardinal Bernard Law’s involvement in the Catholic Church’s pedophile-priest crisis when he was a member of the Spotlight Team at The Boston Globe, has written a new report about sexual abuse — this one involving the Red Sox, whose principal owner, John Henry, is also the owner of the Globe.

Rezendes, who’s retired from the Globe, now works for The Associated Press. His story was published on the Globe’s website today at 3:40 a.m. and presumably will be in Wednesday’s print edition.

The report is about former Red Sox clubhouse manager Don Fitzpatrick, who for years preyed on young Black clubhouse employees. Fitzpatrick left the Sox in 1991 — 10 years before Henry bought the team — and pleaded guilty to charges of sexual battery in 2002.

Although Fitzpatrick was long gone before the dawn of the Henry era, the team remains entangled in Fitzpatrick’s web. Victims are seeking compensation, suggesting that it’s hypocritical for the Red Sox to come to terms publicly with their history of racism (some of it pretty recent) while failing to reach out to Fitzpatrick’s victims.

One of Fitzpatrick’s alleged victims, Gerald Armstrong, told Rezendes, “Now would be a good time for the Red Sox to show everyone they mean what they say.”

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Album #20: ‘The Essential George Jones’

It’s a little embarrassing these days to say you once were a Don Imus fan. By the time he died earlier this year, he was thought of — to the extent that he was thought of at all — as a racist has-been. But for several years during the mid to late ’90s, his nationally syndicated radio show was a favorite of the chattering classes. I was an avid listener during my morning commute. And the one thing I don’t regret about it is that he introduced me to George Jones.

Which is why “The Essential George Jones” is on my list of top 25 albums. Somewhat different from the “Essential” album you’ll find on Spotify, with a different cover, the 1994 two-CD set features 44 songs from Jones’ long, booze-drenched career. I’m not a fan of his upbeat songs; the man just didn’t have the knack, and I find stuff like “White Lightning” and “I’m a People” pretty much unlistenable.

But those ballads. And that voice. From “Just One More” to “A Good Year for the Roses,” from “We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds” to “Bartender’s Blues,” Jones takes over a song with waves of depth and emotion.

Jones’ Mount Olympus is “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” which hit No. 1 in 1980. Often described as the greatest country song ever, it is so floridly sentimental, with swelling strings and a chorus by way of producer Billy Sherrill, that it would inspire laughs in lesser hands. Instead, Jones elevates it to something so fragile and heartbreaking that it’s almost unbearable.

I went to see him just today, oh but I didn’t see no tears / All dressed up to go away, first time I’d seen him smile in years.

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From Lexington to Concord along the Minuteman and Reformatory Branch Trails

We rode 16-plus miles today along the Minuteman Bikeway from Lexington center and the Reformatory Branch Trail from Bedford to Concord, which was new to use. Enjoy!

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Where we started.
The route.
Minuteman terminus in Bedford.
Smile!
Reformatory Branch Trail.
Mary Putnam Webber Wildlife Preserve.
Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.
Along the trail.
Near the end in Concord.
Big sky.