Saturday, April 30, 2005
But if Twardzik is remembered at all today, it is as a musician who died of a drug overdose in proximity to a legendary jazz icon, Chet Baker, before he had even turned twenty-five. By the time Twardzik was twenty-one, he had not only recorded and/or played extensively with the likes of Charlie Parker, but had already developed the sizeable heroin addiction that would fell him only a few years later.
Twardzik died while touring with Chet Baker in Paris; he was discovered "blue" and unresponsive in his hotel room in the city's Arab quarter. The full details surrounding his death will probably never be known, but various rumors have resounded down through the years ever since. What was vouchsafed was that someone was with Twardzik at the time, also shooting up, but had fled when it became obvious that the pianist was overdosing. Common wisdom has it that the party was Baker, who was to die an equally mysterious drug-related European death in 1988.
It is fitting that a biography of the pianist, Bouncin' with Bartok: The Incomplete Works of Richard Twardzik , by Jack Chambers, has been published just in time to celebrate what would have been Twardzik's 74th birthday.
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Thursday, April 28, 2005
No one can possibly imagine (um, well, maybe Doris Day could) how much this cat is beloved in our household. He RULES...as well he should. Sooooo beautiful. . .like a living Monet, Manet, Tippi Tippi Dayday. Perhaps his specialness arises out of his feral roots, i.e. he has a vestigial pack mentality and more or less relates to David, myself and Jay as members of his pussycat posse. The way he behaves toward each of us is very different from the other. He is essentially very straightforward, no nonsense with David; rough and tumble with me (he thinks I'm a cat); and, with Jay, very loving and sensuous. Film director Alain Renais is perhaps correct in his belief that the world and the universe are essentially a construct around which the wellbeing and protection of cats revolve.
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Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Those who've read my web site page (link removed) about singer Bill Black might be interested in knowing that this recording will be released in Japan in September. A surprise to me because I didn't really fight very hard for it. Ya never know...
What I DID fight for, however, was to try and understand how a singer---Bill Black---touted by big band poobah George T. Simon as being the next Sinatra could more or less disappear from sight after 1950, essentially never to professionally resurface again.
Nothing that I could come up with was sufficient to explain it: alcoholism, tax and/or draft evasion, sex, drugs. . .? It just didn't add up. At a certain point, I even thought that it might have something to do with a (literal) black "passing" for white. But Bill was so smart he could most likely have navigated those shoals.
After two years of searching, yesterday morning, almost on the point of giving up, I was finally able to make contact with and interview a close friend of Bill's (aka Clay). Soon, I should be able to solve the mystery of the recording. Who plays on it, etc.
The most illuminating (AND SHOCKING) thing he told me explains beyond question why Bill disappears from the "scene" after 1950. In retrospect, I should have guessed. If it had been a snake it would bit me. What Bill's friend said even explains why he "washed up" on the shores of Manhattan a decade later with a new name, Clay Mundey.
"He was attacked by the Mob," Bill's friend said. "He was left on a Los Angeles freeway. And some doctor out in Palm Springs had him stay in his house for about a year. He recuperated. That knocked the stuffing out of him and he changed his name to Clay Mundey at that time because he wanted to get out from under the radar of the Mob. It happened right at the wrong time. Right when the music was changing where it took an extra push for anybody that wanted to make it in the business. You had to have the desire, to have it in your belly, and Clay lost it. He was an exciting guy, one-of-a-kind.
"Did he tell you about his Hollywood days?: Natalie Wood, James Dean and Rock Hudson. He was real good friends with Rock Hudson. They always used to hang out in Palm Springs. Dennis Hopper. He lived in this building and Clay [Bill] was coming down the stairs once and Dennis was coming up the steps, and there was this “Bill Black! Bill Black!” They obviously knew each other. My mouth dropped open. He [Clay] knew Elizabeth Taylor, too."
What befell Bill was very common in the U.S. music industry at one time; especially, immediately after the big bands were breaking up. It happened to nearly every pop singer cut loose from the "protection" the bands afforded. Most chose to cooperate with the Mob, but if you didn't the results could be very very bad...as in Bill's case. The artist would be coerced into signing with an agent who was "in bed with" the mob. The agent would then take a VERY LARGE part of the artist's earnings and pass it on to Vinnie and da boys. It was standard. Few complained.
This aspect of the music business formed a significant part of singer Alan Dale's book, The Spider and the Marionettes. Very much the same thing that happened to Bill also befell at least one other singer, a now very well known vocalist from the same era who was also beat up by the mob for not cooperating. Still known today, apparently, unlike stubborn-by-nature Bill Black, the singer finally accepted the offer he couldn't refuse.
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Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Blogs to the right of me, blogs to the left of me. There’s no getting around the fact that in today’s mod-a-go-go world, Web logs are where it’s at. Still, unlike most bloggers, I don’t post on my site (fablog.ehrensteinland.com) every day of the week—something my boyfriend, Bill, does almost religiously (people-vs-drchilledair.blogspot.com). But I never fail to drop in at the following blogs on a daily basis. Some are gay, some are straight. Some are personal, others wildly political. But they all represent where the action is in blogs. —David Ehrenstein
The beating heart of the left wing of Blogistan, featuring Atrios, a metrosexual and a gentleman, and friends. Said to have cost Trent Lott his majority leader job.
Fearless John Aravosis thoroughly investigated how the “Jeff Gannon” travesty came to be. Which is more than I can say for Howie Kurtz or Anderson Cooper.
The Daily Howler www.dailyhowler.com
Bob Somerby doesn’t quite get GLBT issues, but he attacks fourth estate cant with the relentlessness of an enraged pit bull.
James Wolcott www.jameswolcott.com
Spanking new to Blogistan, Wolcott’s blog has taken off faster than Desperate Housewives, ripping a new one daily for every political charlatan on the block.
Crooks and Liars www.crooksandliars.com
Superb video clips of current events, with a sharp eye peeled to the “pundit” clown show and the sad farce of “mainstream” politics in general.
World O’Crap blogs.salon.com/0002874
A wonderfully funny broadside against right-wing clowns in general and Ann Coulter in particular.
Straight Up www.artsjournal.com/herman
Veteran entertainment critic and author Jan Herman’s blog deals chiefly with the arts, but he never forgets politics. And he delights in skewering all things Bush.
The Rittenhouse Review rittenhouse.blogspot.com
Jim Capozzola is a gay Philadelphian with a great sense of humor and a knack for telling the stories that aren’t being told by the “mainstream” media.
The Tin Man www.tinmanic.com
Their insights into politics and culture make this blog more than a solipsistic cyberdiary. In their own quiet way these guys are fabulous.
Cathy’s World cathyseipp.journalspace.com
Her conservative politics never get in the way of her sense of humor, and the mosh pit of readers’ comments that’s part of the package is always worth a look.
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Monday, April 25, 2005
In 1998 I authored a book about the history of black show biz for Temple Univeristy Press, Hot from Harlem: Profiles in Classic African-American Entertainment, which was then cancelled at the last minute when Temple found out that I was white---something I'm not necessarily proud of, but made no attempt to hide. I kept the $5,000 advance and pubbed myself, sold it out and after leaving it lie fallow for the past couple of years am now trying to get reprinted by someone other than myself.
It is a rather fine book, not because I am such a good writer but because the material is so rich and writer-proof. Starts with an overview of minstrelsy, and "our national play" Uncle Tom's Cabin, then moves on decade-by-decade with a chapter on a representative figure from each era. Begins with Will Marion Cook, then Billy McClain, the Whitman Sisters, Valaida Snow, Nora Holt, Billy Strayhorn, Hazel Scott, Dinah Washington, the great (make that GREAT) actress-activist Frances Williams, Sammy Davis, Jr., Demas Dean and Leonard Reed. The final chapter is entitled "Subjects for Further Research" and contains much about black film, along with multifarious other personages and phenomena. I learned a lot about black movies when I curated an exhibit on the subject at the California Afro-American Museum about ten years ago. . . where they knew I was white when they hired me.
I researched Hot from Harlem----the early black press is not indexed----by just going page by page through each issue of the Pittsburgh Courier and Chicago Defender for several decades on microfilm readers. Talk about getting a bad case of mal de mer!
Just now thought I might put H from H on ebay and see if I can sell the last few copies that I have. People have been paying big bucks for it at bookfinder.com. As my racist grandma used to say, "Everything but the oink."
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Sunday, April 24, 2005
Saturday, April 23, 2005
Not since the various aborted attempts to turn the life of Dorothy Dandridge into a film became a veritable cottage industry in Hollywood have so many Life of a performer been announced as Springfield. The Dandridge film eventually turned up, not on the big screen, however, but on cable as an undistinguished biomeller starring Halle Berry. Not a lot was contained in it about the Dorothy Dandridge who as a very young woman lit a match to herself and locked the dressing room door when a song was taken away from her in the 1941 Duke Ellington show, Jump for Joy. Or the rather shocking rumored real reason her child with dancer Harold Nicholas was born retarded. Neither incident was even remotely sympathetic enough to fit the necessary bio-mold.
But one of several announced Springfield projects that I recall being flogged around this here crazy town was being done so under the auspices of that budding Thalberg, Esther the Artist Formerly Known as Madonna.
It should be obvious that for the immediate future, thanks to the major success of the biopic Ray, a cycle of such films about real musical people, places and things will be making it all the way from development deal to the drive-ins (are there any more of those?). Get ready any minute now, for example, for the announcement of a Janis Joplin film bio starring Rene Z.
Apparently, the Springfield film will have as its defining moment the recording of her legendary 1969 opus, Dusty in Memphis. But there's no question that they'll get it all wrong. For it seems that while the album was indeed begun in that cradle of Southern soul, Dusty's vocals for it were actually cut in Nyawk. It's a longgggg story . . .. But there's no way the filmmakers can make that the highlight of the film without tweaking it into a total fictional canard.
Aside from Springfield's inarguable greatness as an artist, it would seem to me that a film about her might also deal with the fact that of all the major stars who crashed and burned, starting in the 1920s with the great Broadway star Marilyn Miller (drugs), right on up through another major Marilyn in the 1960s, and onward and upward, or rather downward with the likes of Garland and Presley, Dusty Springfield was the only one to actually fully conquer the several major demons, including closeted gayness, that plagued her both privately and professionally.
At one point, Dusty, who had a major run of luck in the music business for almost ten years starting in the early 1960s, by the 1980s was reduced to near bagladyhood, living in single room occupancy hotels in downtown Hollywood just a shriek away from rape at high noon. Those were apparently the circumstances that obtained even around the time of a rather smashing concert by Dusty at L.A.'s Greek Theater, one that I reviewed for the olddddd L.A. Her-Ex .
But she got it all together and by the time she died an untimely death a few years back, had been knighted by the Queen and was said to have possessed an estate worth multiple millions. Several hundred thousand of which were left for the care and maintenance of her beloved cat, Nicholas. Of course the ultimate cosmic joke---one proving once and for that there is no god. . .as if any further proof were needed---was that at just the moment in time where Springfield had pounded the final nail in the coffin of her various madnesses, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and died a rather valiant but nonetheless painful death. The End.
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Friday, April 22, 2005
In the 1950s, London was noted more for cleavage-driven record jacket photos than for her first-rate vocal skills. Perhaps that is why the suits at London's label, Liberty, were chary of listing personnel on her albums lest her sex bomb image be sullied by the merest suggestion she might actually possess not just the proverbial balcony that you could do Shakespeare from, but was a first rate singer in the bargain.
Not that ALL of her albums are devoid of personnel. A few contain partial listings, and those who made the cut over the span of London's 30-some-odd LP ouevre include: Jimmy Rowles, Howard Roberts, Andre Previn, Barney Kessel, Gerald Wilson, Bud Shank.
Beginning circa mid-50s and all the way to her highly problematic 1969 final album Yummy Yummy Yummy (I Got Love in My Tummy), her albums are musically populated by the cream of the crop of West Coast Jazz such as those noted above. Yes, you read correctly: YYY, the Bubble Gum anthem by the Ohio Express. The first few times I heard that song by the original group, I thought the lyrics were "yummy yummy yummy, I got blood in my tummy." But, hey, that's my problem.
Julie's "Yummy" album also contains, among the anomalous nearly all-rock repertoire, "Mighty Quinn" (Bob Dylan's bizarre tribute to Nicholas Ray's The Savage Innocents), and "Louie Louie." In other words, it is to London as Two-Faced Woman is to Garbo. There's a very thoughtful review of "Yummy" here , written in the spirit of "Hey, a girl's gotta eat" and more-or-less summing it up as "transitional." I'll say! The album is so transitional that is was London's last. After that, she donned a nurse's uniform for her role as Nurse Dixie in the long-running TV series, Emergency, in which she appeared with her musical Svengali of a husband, Bobby Troup. It was produced by London's previous hubby, Jack Webb. To which I can only add, "How very modern!"
One jazzman's name that does manage to appear several times on London's albums is that of the great guitarist Al Viola. Significantly he shares almost equal billing with London on the followup to her out-of-left-field wildly commercial mid-fifties debut album, Julie is Her Name . The latter is the one that contains her signature song and mega-hit "Cry Me a River" and features only guitar and bass accompaniment throughout (unheard of at the time).
Why, I had always wondered, was London's follow-up album, Lonely Girl, with Viola, even more stripped down than her first effort? One would have expected either a radical departure from the first, or else more of the duo. . .instead of just one guitar. Finally, the other day, I received an answer to my Baroque worry when I spoke with Viola on the phone and he brought up the subject of Lonely Girl.
And as it turned out, my instincts about the album had been spot on. Essentially, Viola said, after her first effort, it was felt by most in the London circle (and perhaps the singer herself) that a repeat of the first spare, low key album would be a bit much. And so, a big band album was undertaken. But after a few days in the studio, things were simply not panning out. London had never worked in such a large instrumental environment before, and was apparently thrown by the sheer bombast of it all. And so, Viola was brought in to experiment with the idea of perhaps London recording the tracks with just him, and the big band would then be dubbed in later.
Julie and Al began singing and playing and it was immediately apparent that there was great rapport between them. London, because of a her parents' background in vaudeville, knew a lot of songs, she began calling them out to Viola, and the afternoon session soon turned into more of a jam session than one for laying down vocal tracks. By early evening it was obvious to everyone that this was, in fact, the recording session for the singer's next album.
Viola told me: "If I didn't know the chords to a particular song, or Julie didn't know all the words, they'd call up music publishers even at home in the evening. She was so big then that there was no problem at all having the songs messengered over to the studio late at night, and by early morning the LP was in the can. "
A while back, one of London's closest friends told me that he had never seen a more beautiful woman with a saltier tongue. In other words. . .not since Carole Lombard. Based on the evidence of this outtake from one of London's sessions, I think I know what he meant.
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Thursday, April 21, 2005
As for the guy who spat chewin' tabacky in Jane Fonda's face in K.C. yesterday and then...RAN! I say it's exactly that kind of cowardice that lost us the Vietnam War in the first place. But I digress.
What I really wanted to tell you is that David Ehrenstein's funny meditation on Cyber Separation at Birth is in this week's L.A. Weekly. Here's the link.
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Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Yesterday morning I played the 1958 recording for the great jazz guitarist Al Viola. "I could send you a copy," I said. He replied, "Nah. Just play it over the phone."And I did. It was just like being back in high school.
His response, in brief, was: "At first it sounded a bit like me, but I think I would remember." After a few more bars, he was certain that it wasn't. He added: "Besides myself, there were only two other guitarists that I know of who were playing and soloing extensively in that blocked chord style at the time, Barney Kessel and Howard Roberts. It really is an attempt to copy the sound of the first Julie London album, isn't it? I tend to think it sounds more like Howard than Barney."
The key to the identity of the musicians, I have discovered -- a longgggggstory, is the great lyricist, Don Raye, who died in 1985. My research on Raye prompted me write a blog entry about him here a few days ago.
I have made many phone calls the past few days regarding Don Raye to even some who I would consider "insider" Hollywood music scene types, but you would be surprised how many times I've been the recipient from the other end of the line of, "Don who?" (Don Ho).
Raye might not have been America's greatest song lyricist---I wouldn't swear on a stack o bibles to that---but surely he was the most versatile. Were even the vaunted likes of Porter, Berlin and Ira Gerswin capable of such diverse lyrics as the hepsmokeareefer "Mister Five by Five," contrasted with the sensitive "I'll Remember April." Or "Cow Cow Boogie" AND "You Don't Know What Love Is."
Ah well! While Raye may have fallen through the cracks of music history, his legatees are having the last laugh; probably being compensated for this culturally criminal oversight to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars a year (if not more).
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Tuesday, April 19, 2005
Cavanaugh was at the crest of his popularity when he appeared in that 1948 film. And while, as the decades have worn on, some of his national notoreity may have diminished a bit, there is little room for disagreement that at age 83---"Godamned, that's old," he said to the audience at one juncture--- Cavanaugh is absolutely at the peak of all his powers. Not just pianistically and vocally, but also as a wonderful diseur who, between---and sometimes even during---numbers, imparts a steady steam-of-consiouness supply of tales of his more than sixty years in show business. Most of which are probably better heard first-hand than repeated in print. However, one of his asides during a intentionally hokey passage at the keyboards, "A little cathouse piano never hurt anyone," should give you some idea of the rarified piquancy of Cavanaugh's patter.
At the time, last night, I hadn't necessarily planned to write about Cavanaugh herein, so I didn't even bother to write down a set list, but much of what he sang and played were expected old favorites such as "Nina Never Knew" and "Lulu's Back in Town." The latter was performed at the behest of an audience member who called it out as a request. "Goodness," Cavanaugh shouted back in response, "I haven't performed that since World War One." He then, of course, launched into a beautiful vocal rendition of the Mel Torme standby.
I would also like to add that Page's tasty drummer, David Tull, is a terrific jazz vocalist, the male species of which is in especially short supply these days. Think Mel Torme but with Bing Crosby's much butcher voice---headtones begone!---and without the former's show-offy tendencies. In other words, I didn't have to make a scat arrest. Several other fine singers were in the audience last night, including Mark Miller, Sam Graham, Pinky Winters and Betty Bryant, and if you'd dropped a bomb on the place. . .. Well, I don't even like to think about it.
Tull sang one of his own songs, in addition to another vocal solo whilst still holding down the drum slot. A number about the vicissitudes of airplane flight post-9/11, and I don't think I have ever before witnessed---as I did last night---an entire audience fall out of their collective chairs as one. All I can add is, "Dave Frishberg, look out!."
As I understand it, this was the first of regular Monday night appearances by Cavanaugh at Charlie O's. Not quite sure of the periodicity, but I'll find out and mark it as a regular event on my calendar. If you live in the area and would like to do the same, here's the phone number for Charlie O's: 818-994-3058. Ring 'em up and ask, "When'll Page Cavanaugh be back?"
Here's a good net bio of Page Cavanaugh. AND a link to amazon.com and one of a half-dozen of his CDs for sale at that shop-naked site.
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Sunday, April 17, 2005
And yet, last year when I attended the memorial service for the Carter at UCLA, not only was the song not played, it wasn't even mentioned in the various eulogies. In general, it seems to me that not only is Cow Cow subjected to such sins of omission as this, but over the years has been accorded outright out-and-out insults such as even Carter, himself (I seem to recall), dismissing the song as not much more than something that paid the rent.
But not only do I think the song has an undeserved bad rap, I would also aver that "Cow Cow Boogie" is a terrific little jump band number, on a par with the best of Louis Jordan's similarly constructed forties hits such as "Choo Choo Ch' Boogie," "Saturday Night Fish Fry," and "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens."
Listening recently to Morse's “Mr. Five By Five,” by Raye and DePaul, I caught the following delightful bi-lingual play on words for the first time: “He's one of those big fat bouncin' boys, solid avoirdupois(e)." Be still my heart!
And from 1946, how about "What's that, HOMIE [!]. If you think I'm dancin' on a dime, your clock is tickin' on the wrong time." This was also sung by Raye and DePaul's main conduit of their works in the 1940s, the great, make that GREAT (I'm in total accord with Myra B.) Ella Mae Morse. But a few of Raye's other lyrics (DePaul wrote the music) include:
“Cow Cow Boogie”, “Mister Five By Five”, “Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet”, “The House of Blue Lights”, “Pig Foot Pete”, “Your Red Wagon”, “Down the Road a Piece”, “Beat Me Daddy Eight to the Bar”, “Rhumboogie”, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”, "Well All Right! (Tonight's the Night)".
What is expecially interesting about Raye's catalog of lyrics, though, is how he could, from time to time, calm down long enough to write sensitive ballads such as “He’s My Guy”, “You Don’t Know What Love Is”, “Star Eyes”, “I’ll Remember April", and the popular patriotic anthem, “This Is My Country.” Admittedly, most of the latter were created with the assistance of a co-lyricist. Still!!!!
But the ultimate point of this entry is not encomia directed toward to Morse, DePaul, and Raye, but rather to bring attention to a most astonishing piece of trivia I happened upon the other day while preparing my Bill Black CD for Japanese release this summer.
The profoundly underappreciated Don Raye was born Donald MacRae Wilhoite, Jr. in Washington, DC in 1909 (died 1985). And who was the the father of Don Raye, the latter IMHO responsible for entering more hip phrases into the everyday lexicon than any other songwriter? None other than DMS, Sr., the man who wrote what is considered, across-the-board, the squarest, corniest song in the history of American Popular Music, "M-O-T-H-E-R." Yes, that very same Mother, i.e. "'M' is for the million things she gave
me". . .yadayadayayda.
If you're looking for a pluferfect refutation of the old nature vs. nurture cliche: "The apple doesn't fall too far from the tree," this would seem to be it.
I know some rather dicey parody lyrics to this Wilhoite, Sr's magnum opus, but with Mother's Day so close at hand (invented by a fellow West Virginian
. . .I'm sooooo proud), I'll refrain for the nonce.
PS: After writing the above, I thought I would do a bit more research into "M-O-T-H-E-R." In at least one reseach book here at Oblivion Towers, I am informed that the writer of the treacly anthem to motherhood is a certain Howard Johnson. I am not sure how to balance this off against dozens of internet sites that credit the song to Don Raye's father. I would far prefer to believe that latter, so let's just let it go at that. Meanwhile, I have other fish to fry and better things to do, such as reading, in today's L.A. Times' , David Ehrenstein's review of Liz Smith's new book.
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Saturday, April 16, 2005
"There were many stops for Buckley, both planned and unplanned, along the way [circa 1960]. He set out with his faithful aide Louis in a battered old VW bus, and while he was on the road, Buckley worked dates in a number of cities. But the most memorable stopover was in Chicago where he linked up with two members of the soon-to-be-formed Second City Company for a one-night-only smashingly successful performance. Actor Severn Darden, who performed with Buckley and actor Del Close in Second City's presentation, Seacoast of Bohemia, told me about Buckley's triumph: 'It was the most remarkable evening I've ever seen happen in the theater. The three of us had rehearsed for several weeks, and when we finally did the show the audience cheered and laughed throughout all of it.'"
Along with (oops) legendary teacher Viola Spolin---the mother of improvisational comedy---Close was a major figure in the development of Improv. In other words, think Bill Murray, Martin Short, John Belushi, Gilda Radner and dozens more from the SNL/Second City axis. This all came to mind when I read an article in the current Chicago Reader concerning a memoir about Close, Guru: My Days With Del Close, written by the comic's aide-de-camp in his final days. Not having read the book yet, still I glean from the article and other reviews that, according to Guru author Griggs, Close brought a whole new world of meaning to the phrases "piece of work" and "high maintenance."
So the story goes, a somewhat, ummmm, legendary comedy LP by Del Close and John Brent, How to Speak Hip, made a big impact on Brian Wilson around the time he was recording his---oh to hell with it--- legendary album, Pet Sounds. He took to sprinkling his conversation with Brent's hipster characters, Geets Romo, who riffs on and on in the manner of "...and then we'll have world peace" i.e., "Someone hand me a candybar...and then we'll have world peace." According to legend, Wilson even wanted to title "Pet"'s "Let's Go Away For Awhile," "Let's Go Away for Awhile And Then We'll Have World Peace." Click here for Wilson talking about How to Speak Hip followed by a brief snippet from the self-same sidesplittingly funny album. To the best of my knowledge the recording is, alas, out-of-print, and used copies usually cost suds 'o moola.
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Friday, April 15, 2005
One time I happened by the The House of D (the title of the new flick), as nearly everyone called it, and heard an inmate bellowing down to someone below gazing ten stories upward: "BIG RUBY IS DEAD." Who is this Big Ruby person?, I wondered as I sauntered by. How did she die? Whacked by another prisoner in a love triangle? Iced by a guard? Was she even an inmate of the place? And just how large was this Big Ruby person anyway? Nearly forty years later, I still want to know the answer to these and many more questions about this avoidupoidinous creature named after a semi-precious stone.
Any time of the day or night you could catch prisoners in the HOD, and those down below on the sidewalk, shouting messages back and forth to each other. One Christmas eve I remember, dozens of prisoners from various floors serenaded busy shoppers and passersby with Irving Berlin's "White Christmas." Dozens stopped and looked up at the living Capra before their very eyes. Until! Reaching the final stanza, the carolers rang out:
"And may all your Christmases be. . . BLACKKKKK."
In the early seventies they tore the Dickensian apparition down and put up a community garden in its place. A nice touch but Village has never been quite the same since.
I know this risks turning into Breakfast With Dorothy and Dick, but over corn flakes this a.m., David turned to me and said:
D: It says on the net today that the Catholic church in Africa is growing by leaps and bounds. Maybe that's why all these rumors of a black pope.
ME: Pope Tyrone?
D: Oh, Bill, that's so fifties. Pope Ice!
How's that for offending two Two TWO racio-religio groups within the space of a single anecdote?
As for this business of "Sainthood Now!" for Pope John Paul, one of the necessary miracles for doing so would definitely be his getting Cardinal Law out of Boston alive!
I couldn't help but catch some of the reruns of the Pope's funeral on TV (who could?), and I must say that I was disappointed that they didn't play so much as a single bar of Sarah Vaughan's record album, Sassy Swing the Pope. You think that I'm making this up and that, Shirley, I jest?
May I direct you, then , to Jazzletter Records JL-4. Also known---somewhat more officially---as Let It Live! (as opposed to Let it Be), a 1985 recording that features Sarah Vaughan (i.e. Sassy) singing 15 songs with lyrics by none other than his nibs, the Pope. It is every bit as much of dog as you might expect, but as bad as it is musically is how astonishing it is in regard to the sheer mass (nio pun intendis) of great jazz players assembled to plays the charts of the wonderful French arranger, Francy Boland, with the orchestra conducted by the equally illustrious Lalo Schiffrin. The musicans include: Benny Bailey, Idress Sulieman, Rolf Ericson, Art Farmer, Sahib Shihab, Jimmy Woode, Bobby Scott, Sal Nistico, Norma Winstone, et al. A vanity recording of the Pope's? If so, it must've cost a small papal fortune. Can you imagine, now with them both gone, how valuable a copy would be signed by both the Pope and Sarah Vaughan? Can you just imagine the scene, someone is invited to kneel and kiss the Pope's ring, and just then the party whips out Sassy Swings the Pope, and says, "Could you put your John Hancock on this?" Otherwise, however, I heard tell that the thing turned out to be such a turkey they ended up giving 'em out in confessionals. One copy for venal sins; two for mortal. Or maybe it was the other way round?
This just in: A woman in her SUV was struck and killed yesterday at a railroad crossing while talking on her cell phone. Um, no comment.
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Wednesday, April 13, 2005
That's why over the past few years, as I come ever closer to the very last word in your friends having fun without you, I've begun to sell off stuff on ebay. Even things with great sentimental value, such as the printing plates for some Covarrubias books, and Oliver Harrington artwork given to me my late friend, actress-activist, Frances Williams. But the item (or I should say items) that I put up for auction today really takes the petite madelaine: a file of personal correspondence with the director of, and items related to the cult film (Carnival of Souls). Take a look at the ebay listing here here.
A longtime fan of the 1962 film stretching back to the days in the same decade when it used to show on one of the late (make that late LATE) shows on New York TV (most likely Channel 9), in 1982 I decided to try and track Harvey down. I rang up information in Lawrence, Kansas where the film was mostly shot. Bingo ! They had a listing!
Inasmuch as there probably weren't too many Herk Harvey's (a son perhaps?) in Lawrence (the exact epicenter of the U.S. I seem to recall) I took down the number, and rang it up.. ."Hello. You don't know me, but. . .".
The next thing you knew I was engaged in a long long distance (remember long distance?) call with the one-shot director of, IMHO, the cult film to end all cult films. With his permission---recorder at the ready---I taped our conversation. Not long afterward I received a big package of "Carnival"-related material in the mail, including a press book, which I have since sold.
Afterward, I tried without success to peddle an article about Harvey to any number of under and above ground publications----can you say "Ahead of the Curve"?---but to no avail. Finally, in 1997 I was able to hustle it to some now defunct Internet site for $50.00 (pity the lowly free-lancer).
In the early 1990s I produced special laserdisc editons for the prestigious Criterion Collction, but at the time they always turned a deaf ear whenever I would suggest reissuing "Carnival." The overweening Criterion philosophy at the time was---for the most part--if it doesn't require English subtitles, we're not interested. They have since released a magnificent Two-DVD edition of the film. I guess you could now say Carnival of Souls rightfully belongs to the ages. Harvey died in 1996, but not before history had absolved me, and landed him in a small but significant niche in film history.
Way too long to post in its entirety here, what follows is a brief snippet of some of what the very pleasant and forthcoming Harvey told me that afternoon about his One Hit Wonder.
note: "Centron," referred to several times in the interview, is the industrial filmmaking outfit, with which Harvey was associated for many years.
Q. Tell me little more about the logistics of the making of the film.
HH: We had a five-man crew. Our sound man had never made a movie before. He'd only been a sound recordist. Our camera man had a really good feel for black and white. Maurice Prather; he worked for Centron. First we shot here in Lawrence for about four days. Then we went to Saltair. I'd written the governor previously and he said they'd co-operate, which they really did, because when I got to Salt Lake they just gave me the key and said go out and enjoy it. When we got there, we found this guy who was doing a survey of the pilings to see if they could rebuild the place. The decorations for the finale were already there when we got there, which was lucky. And it was a great break when we discovered that the electricity was still on and we could shoot at night which made for very interesting effects.
Q. How about your own role on the screen?
A: I played the part of "The Man," and one night I was just sitting out there and some school kid came walking by and I had my make-up on.
Q. Tell me about early showings of the film.
A. The premiere in Lawrence was a big deal, spotlight out in front, etc. We know that Carnival was shown throughout all of Europe and also Brazil and Argentina and Venezuela. The good reviews were initially really heartening.
Q. How about your job with Centron?
A. I've directed 400 to 500 films for Centron. Some of them I'm very proud of. We bring in professional actors for them. I've worked recently with Jesse White, Rowan and Martin; Ricardo Montalban does the narration for a film I've just completed. Films that are used for business meetings, stockholders meetings. We've made films all over Europe. I've been to the tip of South America, Alaska, the Far East, Korea, Sometimes the clients tell us what they want, we map it out, and we meet somewhere in the middle. Other times they give us an outline and turn us loose, Other times they tell us exactly what they want and we deliver. It all depends.
Q. I often wondered why the man who did Carnival of Souls never made another movie. I now can see that you did.
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Monday, April 11, 2005
Obviously, he had stories to tell. Including a humdinger about Lana Turner and a reflexively tumescent Edmund Purdom filming The Prodigal. " CUT!!"
Hank was also on hand for the shooting of Kismet and witnessed Dolores Gray (in her MGM prime) and. . . her mother. According to Hank, Dolores' mom made Gypsy's Mama Rose look like she was standing still. Not a nanosecond of La Gray's performance went by without Dolores looking off to the sidelines for Mama's approval. Like all good stage mothers, Dolores' ma sat in a nearby chair doing her knitting with seeming calm. However, a quick jerk of the head, almost imperceptible to all but those in the know, could either keep the shoot going or bring it to a screeching halt.
Hank especially remembers the day when Dolores was filming Kismet's “Not Since Ninevah.” The take completed, an overwhelmed Vincente Minnelli rose from his director's chair and in his most effusive, warp-speed style exclaimed: “Dolores, Darling. I laughed, I cried, I loved every minute of it. I don't know how you do it.” Only to discover Dolores' face frozen in anguish. Apparently, Mama had given THE SIGNAL. “No, Vincente, no,” DG wailed, “I was terrible, I was awful. I know I can do better. Pleeeeease, give me another chance.” And a thoroughly perplexed Minnelli gave in. Now that is a star!
Few who are true devotees of the great Gray would disagree that her ultimate screen moment was the belting out of the Andre Previn - Betty Comden - Adolph Green number "Thanks a Lot, But No Thanks" in one of the last (if not, in fact, THE last) of the great MGM musicals, It's Alway Fair Weather. Unfortunately, it is seldom if ever performed nowadays due its somewhat dated references. Take a listen to the Dolores Gray original (link removed) ---with its alternately non-pc and passé references to the likes of silver blue minks and Clifton Webb--- in IAFW, and I think you'll see what I mean. Timeless for certain, but a trifle before-time I'm sure you'll agree.
Now, however, I'm delighted to announce that it has been been oufitted with a whole new set of lyrics updated for our brave new metrosexual millennium by Chris Schneider of San Diego, CA (I feel just like Franklin P. Adams). Here's HIS version:
THANKS A LOT, BUT NOT THANKS
I'm watching and waiting,
(spoken) Hello Sean, hello Tom.
I'm waiting and watching,
(spoken) Hello Kurt, hello Burt,
I hope and I yearn
(spoken) Hello Bill, hello Phil ... hello Leo!
Just for his return.
(spoken) HIYA FELLAS!
[Refrain] Thanks for the PETA-sanctioned, self-skinning furs;
Thanks for the castles marked "His" and "Hers";
Thanks for the pistol that was once Aaron Burr's --
Thanks A Lot, But No Thanks.
Thanks for the silver case of special Zoloft;
Thanks for that business they *called* Microsoft;
Thanks for the poster signed by Seals & Croft
For I am just a faithful dude-ette
Waiting for her faithful dude;
And there's no means, however crude-ette
By which this dude-ette can be wooed.
Thanks for the membership at Aspen's best gym;
Thanks for the lightbulbs that never go dim;
But I'm the schnook whose sole Address Book is *him*
Thanks for the news;
And thanks for the oilwells that ooze;
And thanks for those Savion Glover shoes
Thanks for last year's best stock;
And thanks for the keys to your lock;
And thanks for the X-rated photo of Ethan Hawke
Thanks for losin' your mind,
And thanks for Fort Knox, sealed and signed;
But I got a guy who's V.S. Naipaul and Johnny Depp combined
Copyright © 2001 Chris Schneider
Here's hoping that Mister Schneider's efforts will help breathe new life into TALBNT.
My web site
Sunday, April 10, 2005
King is one of those singers so far below radar that she makes even the great, but needlessly recherche Pinky Winters seem positively mainstream by comparison, and yet the Steamers management was hip enough to bill the booking as "A Very Special Evening." And apparently that is just what the event turned out to be.
I just received a report from one of my chums who attended Steamers on Thursday. She informed me that it turned out to be an affair of somewhat unforgettable proportions. Hmmm. Maybe King is not so obscure after all. At least she was able to fill Steamers, a medium-sized jazz club. Jam packed (in fact) with a spellbound crowd for two long sets. People in a line to buy her CDs, etc. etc.
In commenoration of the evening, Steamers posted a passel of pix from the affair on their web site (click "Gallery", then "Nancy King").
My two friends still can't believe what hit them. Major (ever-important) hipness creds for me!
My web site
Saturday, April 09, 2005
Inasmuch as eight bonus tracks I supplied have been added, you say that you want to know if anyone even bothered to apprise me of the release? Shirley, you jest!
And, you wonder, did I happen to receive a complimentary copy? Have you gone off your meds again?
If I'm even mentioned in the acknowledgements, I'll eat the CD, booklet staples and all. And, yes, even though I'm roundly pissed---no, hurt is more like it ---I will buy a copy. That's how much I like the 1968 recording by Spider Barbour and company.
"There isn't anything you can do in this vicious world."---Rufus Wainright. Ah, well. Onward and upward!
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Friday, April 08, 2005
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Kuro, the bonito junkie
For those of you unfamiliar with bonito, here is a definition I cribbed from another web site: "It is one of the most important fish in Japanese cuisine, it is rarely eaten as the entrée of a meal. Instead, the dark, oily fish is carefully dried and shaved into very fine, intensely flavored flakes known as katsobushi. These salty flakes are combined with kombu seaweed to make dashi, the base stock for most Japanese soups and broths. Dashi is present in so many Japanese foods that the cuisine would hardly be the same without it. The strong, clean fish flavor of katsobushi makes it a wonderful seasoning for wakame seaweed salads, for seasoning chilled tofu, and for sprinkling over steamed or sautéed vegetables"
We began feeding the flakes as a nighttime treat to Kuro thanks to an offhand remark of my Japanese friend, Jay. He said that when he was a little boy, so enamored was the family cat of the stuff that they used to mix it with rice in order to get kitty to eat the latter as a daily diet staple. Well, went my logic, if bonito is enticing enough to cause cats to devour rice in place of the usual meat or fish, can you imagine how much they must like it all on its own? Little did I realize that I was on the threshold of turning myself into an enabler and Kuro into a kitty kat junkie.
Every night at exactly 7:20 Kuro's restlessness begins. In the back of my mind I begin to hear the strains of Lou Reed singing, "I'm waitin' for my man, 26 dollars in my hand. . .." My beloved kitty Kuro (he's the best!) knows that my dishing out his 7:30 treat of the Japanese dried, flaked fish is only a few minutes away. He even comprehends the word "bonito" and one dares not pronounce it at any other time of the day. But at around 7:29, all I have to do to get a rise out of him---he's already pacing back and forth---is to to pronouce just the single syllable, "Bo," to set him off yowling.
A bit of googling with the search words "bonitio" and "cat" demonstrates just how far behind the curve I was when it came to the "B" word. 121,000 hits! Many of which define the stuff as "fish flavored air," or "cat caviar." If you have some curiosity about your cat and the substance (in the sense of "substance abuser") don't fall for the web sites that sell very small portions packed up for kitty at ridiculously inflated prices. Instead, head off to your local Japanese food emporium and pick up a big womping bag of the stuff---that will last for a couple of weeks---for three or four bucks. At least it's not as expensive as---in the immortal words of J Peterman---"riding the white pony."
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Tuesday, April 05, 2005
My first impulse was to go up and coldcock the buppy beeatch. My second was to approach the child, in front of the mother, and ask "Want some candy, little girl?" Finally, better sense prevailed. The old pistol in the pocketbook theory.
Perhaps it was just the mother's way of trying to convince herself that the her offspring is better looking than she actually is. Or maybe she is simply is so busy AND dumb she thinks that if the daughter wears the sweatshirt she won't be bothered with having a serious conversation with the little girl about the, alas, all too real dangers that children DO face out there in the so-called "real world." Whatever the case. . . Look for the disfunctional kid on Oprah in about ten years or so.
I've little doubt that most reading this feel the same way I do; which leads to the inevitable question: "Doesn't the woman have any friends?" Doubtful that many of them would say, "Oh, how cute!"
Arriving back here at Oblivion Towers I googled the item on the net, but much to my surprise came up with nothing. Thought fer shur it would turn out to be a hot item. That's how stoopid I think the population is now in a country that would elect George Boosh prez.
It seems like only yesterday that it supposedly took an entire village to raise a child. (But only one lousy sweatshirt to tear them both down.) Sad sad sad. The final days, I tell you, the final days.
My web site
Monday, April 04, 2005
I would also like to note that there is another article about Eighth Street on the net that nicely captures the zeitgeist of the time and place. Written by a chap who once worked there: MG Stephens. Highly recommended.
Speaking of old aulde tymes, on another site I frequent, someone submitted a post inquiring along the lines of "Whatever happened to Spider Barbour of the "one (critical) hit wonder" LP, Chrysalis.
Here's what I just now wrote back:
I remain in touch with Spider (as well as our mutual friend Ellen McIlwaine---another Woodstock music legend). Spider still lives in the Woodstock area. The lone Chrysalis album is vastly underrated. Spider did another one not too long ago and is interested in trying to rerelease the MGM album. Curiously enough, I had some alternate takes of the Chrysalis songs that even Spider didn't have---don't know why?---and I sent them to him. We used to have a little duo act together and performed at the Sled Hill and a few other Woodstock boites. Might even have some tapes around here somewhere. Spider is a unique and wonderful soul!!!
Googling just now, I found a mini-review that sums up Chrysalis rather nicely. Signed by "AM"?
"One-shot masterpiece from genius songwriter Spider Barbour. His songs show remarkable lyrical and musical depth. Acoustic rock (not quite folk-rock) songs dominate, but the album is full of surprises, from searing fuzz guitar to the whacked-out fantasy “Dr. Root’s Garden” that closes the album. There are spots of jazz, prog (way before its time) and music hall, all of which can ruin psychedelic records, but work incredibly well here because they’re part of Barbour’s vision, not just attempts to be trendy. Favorite lyric: “God is a ring of smoke, wrapped around my finger, a wasp without a stinger, buzzing in my ear." Other lyrics veer towards the psychological and emotional with equally memorable results. Barbour’s voice is soothing and appealing. Nancy Nairn is used sparingly but effectively (two and a half songs) as the other lead vocalist. Her unhinged performance on “April Grove” adds to the appeal and strangeness of the album but is effective precisely because it’s not overused. Some other songs are stunningly beautiful and tragic. One of the all-time greats." [AM]
If anyone is interested, maybe I'll post an MP3 here (for a limited time) someday.
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Sunday, April 03, 2005
Take a listen to one of the tracks (link for a limited time only), "Forever" and let me know what you think. Knowing what I know now, I would even spring for the $16 and some change that they're asking for it at amazon.com .
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