Monthly Archives: April 2022

Film Review

A Million Miles Away

Take Yes for an Answer

Fred Parnes’ documentary about Peter Case is a poignant tribute to this songwriter and to the artistry of songwriting


Bravo! Fred Parnes and his team have created a beautifully poignant, dimensional  and triumphant  film about the life and work of Peter Case. It’s remarkably intimate, told not at a distance from its subject but from its very core. With the great benefit of the artist himself being still with us and capable of telling his own story – plus a surprising bounty of sound footage found from his early days as a street-singer and with his first two bands, The Nerves and The Plimsouls – this is a film about a real songwriter unlike any other.

“I wanted to get out to California, where it seemed like people might understand if you were just gonna be a musician all the time,” says Peter in the film. “I clung to my guitar like a burning piece of wreckage on a sinking ship.” 

Peter Case, as many know well, has been wild in wreckage for decades – and also remarkably prolific – and has never gone down with the ship. Though various life events threatened to bring him down (heart surgery, Geffen Records), he prevailed. And steadily, through the years, while playing with his bands or solo, he’s been creating a beautifully expansive American songbook, distinguished both by its depth and diversity.

Like all of our greatest songwriter-artists, Peter’s had to endure all the anguish of being a unique artist in an industry. But unlike so many of the greatest ones, from Hendrix through Cobain and Amy Winehouse, he survived. And he flourished. Rather then ever be derailed or destroyed entirely, he was empowered and artistically unchained by each shift, and his songwriting deepened and expanded in every direction. 

By sharing Peter’s often rocky journey with such evident love for the unbound spirit of this man and his art, the film honors Peter in a way the world rarely honors songwriters. There’s a recognition of all that goes wrong behind anything that goes right, which is rarely because of the artist. This film resounds like a love-letter to songwriters and to the artistry of songwriting itself. It affirms that great songs still matter, and that real songwriters like Peter remain fully engaged in this ancient mission, connecting with their audiences despite all the old obstacles, and the new ones.

Parnes, a writer, actor and musician himself,  has a lot of insight into the dynamic of being an artist in the world, and avoids the usual simplistic depiction of the  music world as a complete racket run by execs no better than mobsters. Sure, that is part of the truth. But a larger truth emerges, which is that, separate from the music business is the music community, the musicians, songwriters, engineers, managers and all the others. And it is undeniable, and confirmed by this film, that those in the music community are bonded by an abundance of good will, gratitude  and real-time love.

This comes across in the reverent words of Peter’s peers, collaborators, friends and even music writers. Their love for the man and his music doesn’t diminish with passing time any more than the magic of the songs diminish. In fact, the opposite is true: awareness of this songwriter’s greatness, and the power of the songs themselves, continues to expand.

The most beautiful and genuine example of this is when Peter underwent emergency open-heart surgery, yet had no health insurance. Though his life was saved, he was unable to pay the astronomical bill. That’s when Van Dyke Parks stepped in, along with other fellow songwriter-artists including Joe Henry, T Bone Burnett and Richard Thompson, and held a benefit concert which raised substantial money.

As Van Dyke says in the film about this effort, “This is what we do.”

MusiCares, the charity wing of the Recording Academy, also helped Peter substantially as they have helped countless members of the music community since their start in 1983.

This truth is rarely expressed in such films. Though the corporate music industry might exploit and abandon musicians and songwriters, there is more love and support for musicians from fellow musicians and music folk than is known. Peter’s medical bill could have easily decimated a normal man with a regular family. Not so Peter, who was back on the road, in the studio, and writing new songs, soon as he was able.

Peter Case

Fred Parnes also made the great 1994 documentary on the Persusasions, Spread the Word: The Persuasions Sing Acapella, a film Peter loved and which he said warmed him to the idea of Fred making his movie.

Parnes lovingly relates Peter’s journey with much soul, laughter, music and visual grandeur as the artist drives all over creation from gig to gig. The lyrical editing by Kate Amend and Jordan Krause propel the film powerfully, and reveal the expansion of Peter’s songwriting with passages of many of his songs wed to visuals of the man almost always on the road, in motion.

This is a road story in many ways, a Homeric journey of the eternal troubadour, the true poet of the heart and soul; the brave, mystic jokerman escaping from the strictures of his home-town to join all the other black sheep of America and beyond with the limitless, playful, hopeful, and inspirational spirit of song.

All of this combines ideally into what is the most poignant, funny and beautiful filmic love letter to songwriting to come along in some while. It stands up beautifully with the two best so far – 2012’s AKA. Doc Pomus, about Doc Pomus, and 2010’s Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?  Both of these films pay tribute to great songwriters, and to the artistry of their work, which is why their songs still matter, and still move us.

Yet this film is different in many ways, the most prominent being that the songwriter is still alive and well. The present-day Peter becomes the film’s comforting nucleus, around which the film revolves. His real-time presence brings a great warmth, humor and intimacy to the film. Even when relating dark chapters of his life, such as his struggles with his father – and those with the music industry – he injects them with much levity, and usually aimed at himself.

A rebel from the start who always possessed a powerfully resonant singing voice, he was a kid who couldn’t easily fit into the world or even view it well – for awhile he saw everything flat, as in 2D, except for a few fully-dimensional friends. Yet in art – music, literature – he found his pathway, and by writing songs began to make sense of the world.

Always he was literate, funny, passionate and driven; much more a Lennon than McCartney, brilliant with biting wit, a resonant and passionate singing voice, and no phoniness. We learn of the ways his dad would denigrate him, often assaulting his open, artistic spirit by asking, “So, what do you have to say for yourself?”

“I had nothing to say,” Peter remembers. Which is how he felt until he started writing songs, which helped him to discover what he did have to say. “I was tongue-tied,” he said, “in the face of life.”

Songwriting – the merger of words and music – allowed him the means to ascend, and he started writing what he considered “sky songs, ” which relieved the constant burden of gravity holding him down. He also actively deepened his own songwriting well; like Dylan in his early New York days who spent hours at the NY Public library absorbing all the poetry, philosophy , and even newspapers from previous centuries, Peter read his way through the famous City Lights bookstore, where he often crashed for the night.

We see him through the stages of his emergence as a musical force. First came The Nerves, a punkish power-pop trio he formed with fellow songwriter Jack Lee and drummer Paul Collins. Lee’s presence in the film – both in current interviews and in footage from the past – is compelling. (As is the odd folly of their choice of wardrobe – two-piece suits in the punk era.)

The Nerves

When that band broke up, just as at other key junctions in his life, Peter wasn’t defeated but emboldened. He decided to make his own band and do only his own songs. That was the Plimsouls . And they were great. Peter crafted great rockers for the band, and they started ascending. It’s there he broke through with the great triumph of his infectious “A Million Miles Away,” a bonafide radio hit.

Their success – and popularity – as he explains in the film, wasn’t random. They worked hard and put in serrious time to develop the singular character of the band, defining their sound and refining their arrangements and performance. It worked. The Plimsouls became beloved almost instantly, and started selling out each and every L.A. show. Signed by Geffen to Geffen Records, they made one album, and had one hit. A big one.

The Plimsouls, “A Million Miles Away”

It became a hit, and more. Chosen for inclusion in the film Valley Girl, in which Peter and his Plimsouls are seen in a club performing, the song was propelled in a bigger way than any of his others. But one hit alone, unlike in previous eras, was not enough to inspire the label to sustain him. As detailed by Peter as only he can, after being signed to Geffen Records by Geffen, he decided to go solo and made a great album.

In one of the film’s most telling, tragic and comic scenes, Peter relates a meeting with Geffen which says everything about this business and these times, ending with the remarkable phrase which became the film’s subtitle, as spoken by Geffen to Case: “Peter, for once in your life, just take yes for an answer.”

But Geffen essentially abandoned him by offering little distribiution or promotional effort. As he says in the film, “I just wanted to get out, while everyone else just wanted to get in.”

He soon got his wish.

Peter Case on Alhambra Street, 2006
Photo by Paul Zollo

But, again, rather than being diminished by this struggle, as he film reveals, Peter was inspired by his ultimate liberation, and it deepened his artistic soul. He went acoustic, and evolved naturally from rocker into folkie.

The scope of his songwriting expression – which was already expansive, blossomed in new, unexpected, wonderful ways. Unchained from a major label, he wrote every kind of song there is, and each with soulful authority: bluesy epics, matched to great open-tuning guitar parts; beautiful, melodic ballads, great rockers , and those songs that are as great as great gets.

His albums were still wonderfully produced – the best of all worlds – and always featured great musicians, who were also his friends.

Peter, not unlike Elvis Costello and a few others, has created such a vast body of work and in so many styles, that it can be overwhelming. And people have a real hard time with anything overwhelming, as Dylan said while discussing Shakespeare. Because of this, the fullness of Peter’s body of work, although unified by his voice as a writer and singer, has rarely been appreciated by the world. His fans, and also fellow songwriters get it. It’s why so many legendary songwriters, such as Springsteen and John Prine, not only recognized his greatness, but spread the word. In this film Ben Harper proclaims that Peter is our greatest living songwriter. (Ben joined Van Dyke Parks, the late great Don Heffington and other luminaries onstage at McCabe’s for Peter’s great 65th birthday concert, portions of which are included in the film. )

Peter Case, “Beyond The Blues,” Live on Folkscene
Written by Peter Case, Tom Russell & Bob Neuwirth

But now, because of this film, that fullness of his work – his remarkable musical and stylistic range – is now being fully embraced. Parnes and his editors brought home this understanding by beautifully weaving a bounteous array of Peter’s lifetime of songs into the soundtrack, which veers through punk, power-pop, rock & roll, folk, blues and, as he wrote, much that is beyond the blues. Far beyond.

To bring home this truth, the film includes a wonderfully inspirational performance of Peter’s stunning “Two Angels” as a tremendously soulful and empassioned duet by Lady Blackbird and Chris Pierce. Produced live by Chris Seefried (who can be seen in the studio playing guitar along with Mitchell Froom on keys, and other luminaries in the band), it shows that Peter’s songs have a life far beyond his own recordings. “Two Angels” was previously covered by Alejandro Escovedo and was featured in HBO’s “True Blood.”

Peter Case, “Two Angels,” 1989.

As the movie progresses, we learn not only of the general resistance and anguish this songwriter – and all – must endure, but the bigger lesson: that for a songwriter to persist in modern times, and to remain plugged into that source from which the greatest songs come is more than impressive. It is heroic. It is, to paraphrase the great Van Dyke Parks, a triumph of the human spirit.

And just when we were about to give up hope, this happens. That Fred Parnes and his team honored this triumph with such a beautiful film is a great reason to rejoice.

Peter Case

In Memory of Human Sunshine:

Barbara Morrison

September 10, 1949
– March 16, 2022 

There was nobody else quite like her. Whether on the stage of a giant concert hall or a small club; whether performing solo with her band or backing up the countless giants with whom she harmonized, she always cooked up a mighty gumbo of jazz, blues and classic song, ladled out with loving generosity for all in attendance. Whether to a sold-out concert hall, or to more empty chairs than people, she sang with as much momentous spirit, love and delight as if she was at Carnegie Hall.

In fact, she did perform at Carnegie Hall many times over the years, solo and with others. But whether she was there, the Sydney Opera House, or the hip but decidely non-royal Pip’s on LaBrea, she never dialed down. That’s who she was. It didn’t matter who was in the audience, or if there was an audience at all. What mattered was the song. The music. And the bond between musicians.

Barbara Morrison, 2022.

Barbara Morrison. A champion of song, if ever there was. A vocalist of genuine soul and grace, unbound power, purity and passion. Born in 1949, she died two weeks ago on March 16, here in Los Angeles.

It’s also here in L.A. that she performed her final show. It was at Vibrato, the beautiful jazz club owned by Herb Alpert, which up at the top of Beverly Glen at Mulholland.

Although we hadn’t planned on it, my son Joshua and I were at that final show.

We had dinner at Fabrocini’s, the great Italian restaurant also up there in Beverly Glen Circle, just blocks from my beloved new home in Beverly Glen. During dinner I told Josh about how much I loved being so close to Vibrato, where I’ve come several times. Most recently to the great show givien by Paul Simon’s longtime African bassist of multitudes, the great Bakhiti Kumalo. So Josh suggested going in for a drink after dinner. We didn’t know she would be there.

I had never experienced the greatness of one of her live shows, nor did I know much about her. I knew the name, and knew she was an esteemed jazz singer and deliverer of standards from that Great American Songbook.

Yet it seems that Providence (or God, if you will) wanted my son and myself to experience this greatness first-hand, and guided us, gently, quietly, without our knowledge, to what was her final performance ever. It was February 13, 2022. Two weeks later she went into the hospital and her earthly life came to an end.

Yet we happened to be there for the last show, without even knowing of our great good fortune.

Was this an accident?


A mere coincidence?


Was it confirmation that our lives are never random, and as long as we keep our hearts open with loving trust, we will be guided to the exact right place and time?


And that’s exactly what happened. Joshua, who is 22 now, a very recent college graduate and now a full-time producer-plus for Tom Segura’s great Your Mom’s House podcast, was back home after his recent move to Austin to work on YMH at their new Texas home. After dinner we walked over to Vibrato.

When we entered, there was a small crowd there, but it was mostly quiet. We got some good cocktails, and sat at the lovely bar feeling happy, as it’s hard not to feel happy there. Nobody was performing, and I figured there would be no live music on this night.

I was wrong. There’s music there seven nights a week. Suddenly a small ensemble took stage and readied their instruments: piano, bass, electric guitar and drums.

Then we heard the words which surprised and thrilled us:

“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome – Barbara Morrison!”

“Barbara Morrison?!” I didn’t know this was her night, though I had noticed her name on their calendar regularly.

Suddenly she was rolled onto the stage in a wheel-chair. The joy she projected was monumental, though her physical presence had been diminished; alhough she beamed with tender joy and gratitude, her physical body was small and bird-like, and seemed incapable of containing such capacious, unbound talent. Her voice was still strong – and joyfully and poignantly expressive. Though illness had stolen much of her physical self, it didn’t steal the music in her, and her ability to share it with us.

She sang like someone in love with her fellow musicians, with songs, and with the songwriters who brought them to us. She felt every line, and we felt it, too. She sang in a voice was resonant and clear, and she delivered every melody note, and every lyric, with such absolute heart and soul, and with such engaged lyricism, that it was stunning.

Every song was a delight. But none was so powerful, beautiful and sad as when she sang what is perhaps Cole Porter’s greatest and most poignant song, “Every Time We Say Goodbye.” Its poignancy was both sweetened and deepened immeasurably by a force we didn’t recognize then, but do now. Time. Her’ time here was coming to an end. It was her final show ever. Days after that performance she went into the hospital, and from there left this realm to start her next adventure.

But when she sang that song – and every song – it was genuinely beautiful. Only a smattering of audience members were still there, but that didn’t matter – she sang as if she was singing before a packed audience at Carnegie Hall. She so expressed the fullness of the lyric – the shared humanity of each phrase -, and always with a smile bigger than the whole room, as if to say: Listen now and hear me : this is what matters. Love. And it lasts forever. Yet while still in this realm, divided from each other in so many ways, it is easy to dismiss the fullness of our blessings, and the power of love which has enlivened us forever.

But she she sang those words, and with that singular soul of purity, and honored the songwriter, the song and all who could hear and feel its message of joy and sorrow forever entwined:

“Ev’ry time we say goodbye
I die a little
Ev’ry time we say goodbye
I wonder why a little…”

And then the great final verse, with its musical symbology in perfect rhyme and meter:

There’s no love song finer
But how strange the change
From major to minor
Ev’ry time we say goodbye

Barbara Morrison concert, streamed live on November 14, 2020

We knew that night how lucky we were to have walked in for a drink, not knowing she would be performing. But since then we’ve recognized it was more than luck they led us there on that night, the last show of her life; it was a blessing, and our gratitude has deepened.

I learned of her death from my old pal Sal Guitarez, a songwriter-musician-teacher and great dad (to musician-producer Jason Gutierrez) if he’d heard of her, in advance of relating my lucky tale of wandering in there with my lad just in time for her full set.

He said, “Yeah, sure. Barbara Morrison.” Then he added, “I heard she’s gone.”

“No, she’s not,” I said. “I just saw her last week–“

“No,” he said. “She is gone. She just died yesterday.”

Yesterday ? I was hoping he was wrong. He wasn’t.

I called Vibrato to ask if that was her final show that we saw. It was. I thanked them for that night, and every night of great, real-time music.

Herb Alpert’s Vibrato * 2930 Beverly Glen Circle
Los Angeles, CA 90077 * (310) 474-9400

Barbara Morrison, “I Love Being Here With You,” 2010

Her life reads like a good song lyric: Born in Ypsilanti , she was raised in Romulus. Which is Michigan, where she first emerged on September 10, 1949.

Her father was a professional singer, and she followed in his footsteps soon as she could walk. By ten she was already recording and performing, after making her musical debut on a Detroit radio station. She started singing and recording in the service of others singers. That long list of artists begins in 1977 with Johnny Otis, who featured her on many albums, as well as Dizzy Gillespie, Tony Bennett, Count Basie Orchestra, Ray Charles, Etta James, Doc Severinsen, Jimmy Smith, Kenny Burrell, Keb-Mo, Terence Blanchard, Joe Sample, Cedar Walton, Nancy Wilson and Joe Williams.

When she was 22, she moved to L.A., and joined the band of Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson’s Band. Once she started, she never stopped. Till now.

She always let us knows that songs mattered. Lyrics when sung by others could seem hackneyed, and disconnected from real life. But from her deep soul, songs became real conversations with a friend. And no ordinary friend, but a spirited, inspirational friend, one radiating joy.

So direct onstage was her delivery that often she’d be answered, as when she lifted up a room already soaring on the combined energy of Santana and Buddy Guy by igniting Harold Arlen & Ted Koehler’s “Stormy Weather,” with her own brand of authentic soul. Written for Ethel Waters in 1933, she easily tapped into its timeless realm.

Barbara Morrison with Buddy Guy & Carlos Santana, “Stormy Monday.”

Her band was made up of four great musicians. Happy ones, even. Maybe not always, but on this night they were jamming like at a party. She encouraged this. Her patter between songs was less about performance and more about our great good fortune to hear songs at this level played by great musicians. Every song soared, and the band rejoiced in their recognition of her sheer candle-power. Her joy was infectious, and lit up every song she sang.

Her voice was always warm and friendly. Smiling, she’d bring the song with loving sweetness and generous clarity, like a great teacher sharing the most beautiful poetry of man to her students. She didn’t take liberties with songs, careful to deliver the beautiful lyrical wisdom and melodic beauty undiluted, while preserving the sanctity. In her singing there was always the undeniable bridge to the eternal.It was about now, but also always about forever.

Barbara Morrison, “What A Difference A Day Made,” 1986.
Written by Stanley Adams and Mariah Grever

Here in Los Angeles she devoted her life to enriching and expanding the musical community, and giving new talent a chance to develop and emerge. In 2009, she opened the Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center in Leimert Park. Two years later, she founded the California Jazz & Blues Museum in the same hood.

Barbara Morrison in concert at the California Jazz & Blues Museum, which she founded.
This is a full show which she gave on New Year’s Eve, 2021 to usher in 2022.

She also served as an associate professor of jazz studies at UCLA. The university recently launched the Barbara Morrison Scholarship for Jazz.

When sung by her, a song came alive in all its fullness and glory. All its aspects were celebrated in the heartfelt joy she’d bring to every melody note, and lyrical phrase. She sang the famous lyrics of standards with a an exultant authority, as if this was the premiere of this miraculous song. In every line, she sang with a depth of gratitude and adoration for the songwriter’s genius and deep artistry that allowed tsomething so brilliant and tender at once; an expression of love so sad and real, reflecting in its aching sweetness the eternal human conundrum, the soul’s journey of love eternal and unbound, though forever bound to a humble, human life, a “brief candle,” as Shakespeare wrote:

“…to the last syllable of recorded time,
and all our yesterdays have lighted fools
the way to dusty death.
Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow…
that struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
and then is heard no more.”

But some voices are heard long after the singer is gone from our realm, just as some songs are sung and last forever, far beyond the life-spans of its songwriters and singers. Songs, when she injected them with her full soul power and love, were like lit candles that could burn brightly forever, illuminating our human hearts with everlasting incandesence.

There’s no love song finer
But how strange the change From major to minor
Ev’ry time we say goodbye

She is survived by her brother, Richard Morrison; two sisters, Pamela Morrison-Kersey and Armetta Morrison; and 10 nieces and nephews.

Flowers and donations will be received at the Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center, located at 4305 Degnan Blvd. #101, Los Angeles, CA 90008.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Rescinds Bob Dylan’s Induction Due to Alleged Use of “Creativity-Enhancing Drugs”

APRIL 1, 2022 Edmund Martifice, spokesman for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, announced today that the 1988 induction of Bob Dylan into the Rock Hall has been rescinded permanently due to “alleged use of creativity-enhancing Drugs.”

All Dylan memorabilia, paraphenalia and assorted writings now in the museum’s collection, he reported, will be auctioned off, destroyed and/or “left out in front of the museum.” Mr. Dylan will be banned from the museum, as will any of his bandmates, collaborators, former wives, present and ex-girlfriends, children, grandchildren or lawyers. All his songs will be deleted from any museum-generated playlists.

The statement read: “Mr. Dylan has been involved in an illicit system of acquiring illegal and/or formally illegal substances, which he used regularly when writing his songs. Our investigation has revealed that many of his most famous songs were written when under the influence of a drug or a combination of drugs, alcohol, caffiene and cough syrup.”

Dylan was also accused of providing drugs for other bandmates and/or friends.

We emailed Mr. Martifice at the Rock Hall for further details. He declined our request for a spoken interview, but did answer in email. Asked if other famous inductees were suspected of also using drugs to fuel their music, and in danger of being deducted from the Cleveland institution, he said he had to first confer with his advisors before responding. Six hours later we received his response.

“As far as we know,” responded Martifice, “no other Rock Hall inductees are suspected of drug usage. Fortunately, this sad and insidious scheme belonged only to Bob Dylan. All in a tragic attempt, evidently, to defraud the public into belieiving he was some kind of creative genius. Now, sadly, we know the truth.”

We contacted the Recording Academy to ask if Dylan’s ten Grammys would be revoked.

Their response was concise: “What? Is this some kind of joke?”

If only.

We also contacted the Nobel Foundation to inquire about the status of Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature. They have not returned the call.

Bob Dylan