20 Feet From Stardom/Unsung Heroines/Amazing tribute to the Back-Up singers of Sixties Rock

20 Feet From Stardom You probably know the 60’s band The Crystals, but may not realize  they lip-synced their hit   He’s A Rebel which was actually sung by Darlene Love who had to fight Phil Specter for credit. Or that  backup singer Merry Clayton  was awoken in the middle of the night by  The Rolling Stones to record the  eternal  lines of Gimme Shelter  “rape, murder…it’s just a shot away.”  She happened to be  in curlers, very pregnant and wearing a mink coat at the time.

These are just two  of the vibrant stories that are featured in Morgan Neville’s  Rock documentary20 Feet From Stardom. This fine and shimmering Rock documentary entertains, educates and enlightens all the way. Inspired by the Gospel roots of Rock and Roll, we see these still-gorgeous backup singers (Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer, Merry Clayton, Judith Hill, and Dr Mabel John ) in a new light through interviews with the Rock legends they are intimately connected to. Bruce Springsteen offers generous details of their Gospel roots (most of them learned to sing in church).

Stevie Wonder, David Bowie ,Sting, Luther Vondross, Bette Midler and Mick Jagger relay insights on what it meant to be a backup singer during  1960’s into the 1990’s.     Recruited both by British bands for their Gospel talents and music producers such as Phil Specter,  the singers  often found themselves both glorified and used, while their rich voices solidified legendary songs and became  familiar to millions of fans.   Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side without the backup singers? Impossible.

The most poignant part of the film  is the story of  Darlene Love who gave up her music career  after fighting Phil Specter and took a job cleaning houses. One day while cleaning a bathroom she heard one of her stolen  songs  on the radio.  She  took this as an omen  to return to the music industry, thankfully. Eventually she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of  Fame. 

  Lisa Fischer’s story is a bit more complicated. Her ethereal  voice has blessed the Rolling Stones’ stage for years in duets with Jagger. Yet, she has chosen not to endlessly pursue the solo route that many backup singers aspire to. Sometimes  life’s   circumstances don’t allow the most talented to reach super heights of fame. Perhaps they are better off  in the background which is also a theme of this emotional story. Fischer won a Grammy in 1992, but never had another album.

     20 Feet From Stardom is a tribute to her enormous talent and unique style of R& B, so perhaps this will inspire another album in the future. The world needs her talent. This is more than a Rock documentary. It is also a feminist story of under-recognized African American female singers who were often taken advantage of by the LA music industry. These women are national treasures to be honored and showcased;  Neville has done a great job of doing so.

Travel Moments: Walking the Camino de Santiago

Nic Freeman

The path stretched over the hill to the horizon. There was nothing but a trail through patchwork green.

Head down, I focused on the grit of the soil, the drips off my limbs and the splash underfoot.

The approaching storm dampened the light, dampened my damp and weary will. And all I could hear was the croak and chorus of frogs and the patter of rain and the whip of the wind in the weather battered grass, as I followed the road to Santiago.

Hours before, a bent old pilgrim and his scrawny grey donkey had walked towards me. Barely slowing, he pointed from where he’d come, towards my destination, as if his vague gesture could impart the wisdom he’d gained on the way.

With throbbing bones and blistered heels, I smiled weakly. I was in awe. I was impressed. I was a third his age and wondering if I’d…

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