I usually wait until at least mid-week before writing about the culture. I know we have to dedicate our best attention to the headlines that make us miserable rather than the arts that give us joy because… actually, I forget the reason, but I’m sure there is one. However, I had a blast at the famous Catalina Jazz Club in L.A. Sunday night and it somehow seemed more worth blogging about than Anthony Weiner’s first political add (“I have something very special to show each and every one of you…”) or the Obama rodeo clown.
Anyway, Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. just rocked the place: a gifted interpreter of the American Songbook with an inspirational personal story. Coming out of the terrible Eight Mile section of Detroit, Murphy rose out of homelessness and hard times when he felt guided by God to appear on the 2011 season of America’s Got Talent. Nearly destitute after a robbery, he showed up for the NBC-TV talent show in his last suit and took home the million dollar jackpot with renditions of such classics as “Fly Me To The Moon,” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” He’s now recorded an album and is on tour around the country — check his website for a venue near you.
The guy is not only really good, he also exudes faith, gratitude and a good nature between songs. At one point, he even challenged the audience by doing a very funny satire of hip-hop re-imagined as big band music with all the curses and degradation of women removed. The one time the audience stopped cheering him was when he referred to hip-hop stars as “evil geniuses.” But Murphy didn’t let that stop him. Good on him: he’s right.
Because my father was a disc jockey on a station that played American Songbook, I grew up with tastes a generation older than my peers. Listening to lyrics like “Flying too high with some guy in the sky is my idea of nothing to do,” and “In time the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble — they’re only made of clay. But our love is here to stay,” I was somehow not impressed with such intricate thoughts as, “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah,” or even the more complex thoughts of troubadours who lacked the simplicity, humanity and grace of the Tin Pan Alley boys. I have always been convinced that the 1920’s through early 60’s marked a peak of American popular music that has never been neared let alone matched.
Murphy understands that music and delivers it with heart and soul. Take a listen, if you haven’t heard him already.