Saturday, April 26, 2008


From my 2000 memoir, Early Plastic:

"I continued with [my 1960 college newspaper column] "The Misanthrope" on a bi-weekly basis, even though I had subtitled the first one" A One-Shot Column," and it began to attract attention outside the campus, even managing to win a couple of national student journalism competitions. It was thrilling to receive my first hate mail after the Moral Rearmament column. . .consisting of exactly one letter. But it was a phone call I received from L.T. Anderson, city editor and columnist of the newspaper, the "Charleston [West Virginia] Gazette," that meant the most to me and had the greatest impact. A left-of-liberal light shining in a bad old world, Anderson had begun his journalistic crusade to bring a modicum of enlightenment to West Virginia in the mid-1940s.

I'd been reading him almost from the time I was old enough to sound consonants and vowels. He had rung up to congratulate me on my skills as a satirist. It was quite a compliment from someone who knew what he was talking about.

In his column, "Anderson in Reverse," the West Virginia native's Swiftian targets included, among other socio-political phenomena: double think, newspeak, public hypocrisy, but especially my grandmother's old bete noir: crooked, nepotistic, ineffectual and/or do-nothing politicians. In general, Anderson used the power of the written word to drag West Virginia kicking and screaming out of the primeval ooze of fundamentalist superstition into the age of Civil Libertarianism. The opinions expressed in his daily column played a major role in helping the region move through the post-integration era with so little upheaval.

Anderson also campaigned---Always in a tone of amused, detached skepticism---against racism, organized religion, and West Virginia's (at one time) Calvinist liquor laws. And through it all rang out the implicit call to soak the rich and tax the church.

The closest L.T. Anderson ever came to gaining wide attention outside of West Virginia (something in which he apparently has little interest) was during what came to be known nationally as the Kanawha County Text Book Wars, a censorship flap of major proportions played out in Charleston and environs in the mid-1970s when the "futurist/secular humanist/relativist" content of certain textbooks stuck in the craw of local fundamental religionists. The fallout included: up to 1,000 protesters forcing schools to close for days at a time, absenteeism running at 50 to 90 per cent in schools most affected, wildcat strikes by up to 10,000 coal miners in apparent sympathy with the protest, resignations by the school board president and the superintendent of schools, two dynamite blasts, fire bomtings of schools, one shooting and one car blown up. Included on the index of undesirable selections in the various textbooks were writings by Malcolm X, Dick Gregory, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg. Curiously---or not so---nearly all the banned writers were either black or Jewish.

As the factions squared off against one another, beginning in the fall of 1974 and continuing on into the next year, Anderson's was by far the most prominent voice raised in opposition to the book banners. As a result of his journalistic participation in the text book crusade, both as a columnist and as a city editor choreographing the "Gazette" coverage, Calvin Trillan, in his "U.S. Journal" in the "New Yorker," described Anderson as a "columnist who does as much as a man can do to keep the spirit of Mencken alive in West Virginia." In one column LTA likened the protesters to "the crazed nuns of Loudon," going on to trenchantly observe:

'Analysts may sincerely perceive at a distance that what was happening here is a heartwarming class struggle, but I am a hillbilly born and bred, a veteran of many a gospel meeting. I have looked upon thousands of cruel pious faces. I recognize plain and simple religious mania when I see it. It is good to pity the sufferers, but it is mischief to encourage them with illusions to their social frustrations. They have always been welcome at council meetings. They preferred the excitement of revivals.' He then flogged 'Bawl-and-stomp preachers, who must feel something like nymphomaniacs at the Legion convention, and cannot conceal their pleasure at being sought out and questioned for television audiences by men wearing neckties.' In retrospect, the text book debacle can be seen as a dry run for today's slick, well-funded right wing protests whose primary supporters are those that Anderson described so well in his column."

I maintained casual contact with Anderson over the years. He died in 2004 at age 83 after nearly six decades of newspaper writing, which included many thousands of columns. Here is just one example from 1991, chosen by me more-or-less randomly.

cliquez to enlargez

Here is what he wrote to me about my memoir, and his inclusion in it:

You have proved that persons other than movie stars can have interesting, if not necessarily happy lives. You certainly managed to keep me turning the pages.

You also managed to remind me that my own life has been exceptionally drab. You yourself observed that lunch at the mall is an adventure for me.

As to your reference to your days at the Gazette, it is frightening to suppose that any life could be influenced by the likes of me. A man should be careful of what he says in the presence of the young.

Migod, you must be what I once thought was old. Hope you are well. Hope your book sells. I lost your email address.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

Something Kewl


June’s in Tune
by George T. Simon
Metronome magazine July 1949

Miss Christy isn’t sure how she got that way, but wants to improve more and always sing jazz

SHE’S STAN KENTON, pint-sized, feminine-style, this June Christy gal. She's just as intense, just as enthusiastic about her music as Stan used to be. She lives it and she loves it and she's not going to let anybody stop her from singing it.

"I must sing jazz!" she exclaims emphatically. But whereas most singers say things like that and do nothing about it, June has very definite plans. "I want to do recitals. I want to hire small recital halls in various towns and then do what I want to. I’d like to have a good small group with me, Bob's especially." Bob is her husband, former Kenton saxist Bob Cooper, who at this writing is on the West Coast, far away from June, who doesn’t like his being so far away one bit.

Note above that June specifically said "small" recital halls. She doesn't have any delusions of grandeur. She doesn't think folks are going to flock in from all over just because she won a couple of polls. She doesn’t think she's nearly so great as a great majority of girls think they are. But June's improving. Everybody in the business is noticing that. Her latest Capitol records are much better than her first sides with Kenton and the first she made on her own, released a couple of years ago.

Most noticeable recent change in her singing revolves around her intonation. June's in tune these days and that improvement alone has raised her musical stock tremendously. She has no real explanation for it. "Maybe the rest did me some good. I didn’t sing from Christmas, when the band broke up, until April the fourth. Then too, it may be just that I've been improving steadily, a little bit all the time. After a while, I guess, people are bound to notice it. Also, I think my ear has been improving. If you’re as interested in singing as I am and want to go ahead, I guess you've just got to improve. At least when you're trying like that you can't go backward."

June has another interesting and more general explanation. Girls singing with bands, she points out, don't get much of a chance to practice. They move around a great deal and almost always live in hotels. There they don't get a chance to vocalize, primarily (at least this was so in June's case when she was with Kenton, because there's nothing that makes a gal singer feel quite so self-conscious as emoting in a hotel room, knowing all the time that there are probably dozens of people around her wishing she'd shut up).

The self-conscious aspect also pervades June's career as a single. Now, to be sure, she finds more time for practice, but now, with no band behind her, she's much more conscious of the spotlight. "I'm not the showman I should be, yet," she admits, "But I think I'm gradually getting over the feeling that everybody's staring at me. You see, I want to sell what I sing and I want to be a showman. But at the same time I don't want to sacrifice singing for salesmanship. I must sing jazz!" Those of us who saw June in her recent Bop City stint and also in her first New York solo appearance two years ago at the Troubadour were amazed not only at the improvement in her singing, but also in her improvement as a performer. At the Troubadour she was strictly a hip gal singer, trying to kill all the musicians in the room with vocal tricks, but not killing them (because of her intonation) and certainly not entertaining the rest of the room (because of her lack of showmanship). These days, though, she's a very sleek, slick little performer. Unlike other jazz singers, she looks clean and refreshing and her warm smile and graceful motions make a fine impression on everyone. Maybe she's still self-conscious, but, judging from her recent performances, you'd never know it.

Of, course, as she readily admits, there's nothing like having a guy like Stan Kenton up there with you to give you confidence. Just like everybody else who has come off the Kenton band, she is full of praise for her former boss. "Stan always inspired me, yet he never told me how or what to sing. When I was down, be would build me up. When I was a little too high for my own good, he'd sit on me and bring me down to where I belonged. It would take up your whole magazine if I ever told you all that I got from Stan, not only about music but about people, too!”

June wants to be sure to include in her Kenton testimonial the large part that Stan has played in achieving recognition for jazz. She feels that the booking agencies, among whose members there are too many phonies, take delight in putting jazz down. "But it took a guy like Stan to make them respect us!"

June hopes to gain more respect for jazz in her future engagements. Until such time as she can be reunited musically with her husband, she looks forward to working with soft backgrounds in clubs, preferably with a trio or quartet like the Nat Cole group with which she worked at Bop City. "A quieter group almost always means a quieter audience," she says. "And that's great! Since working with Nat, I really enjoy singing ballads, something I've never especially enjoyed before. You know what I'd really get my kicks from? I'd like to do some things with just guitar alone, with Laurindo Almeida, that wonderful guitarist Stan had. I think we could do some really pretty things!"

June has additional praises for another Kenton alumnus, arranger Bob Graettinger, who wrote the unusual background on her new Capitol record of Everything Happens To Me. To her, that's a different sound, something new in the field of music, certainly something very different from the lush fiddles or the small combo sounds that back most singers. Singing with complicated backgrounds of the Graettinger sort of course requires a really good idea and a keen sense of pitch. Listen to how June sounds on that record, and you'll get a pretty good idea of how much the girl has improved and why so many of her earlier well-wishers and disbelievers alike now shout: "JUNE'S IN TUNE!"

Monday, April 07, 2008

Nora Redux

In October of 2006, I posted an entry about singer Nora Evans. Actually, "singer" doesn't even begin to cover it. Nora was---I use the past tense, for she a died a few months later in early 2007---also a "shrink" (her words) and in her late seventies (by my estimate) was anxious to get back into show biz after a several decades hiatus. You can read about the first of several late night calls I received from Nora HERE. Not since my late night calls from Martha Mitchell back in the seventies...

In the course of my first talk with Nora, she mentioned that in the early 50s she had helped pay the rent by recording soundalike tracks for a budget label, Broadway. For those of you unamiliar with the idiom, there were a number of such outits during that decade that specialized in grinding out el cheapo cover recordings of hits of the day. Usually these were sold for a fraction of the cost of the originals down at the feed and grain emporium or the local Woolworths. HERE/HEAR is what they sounded like.

And just why---you might ask---am I rehashing all of this old business? I do so because just the other day a reader sent me an mp3 of one of Nora's Budget tracks. I've been able to uncover a total of such nine such sides by her, including covers of Patti Page's "Cross Over the Bridge," Kitty Kallen's "Chapel in the Moonlight" and "Little Things Mean a Lot," etc. But until now I've never heard any of them. Now thanks to aforementioned reader, here is Nora's attempt at evoking one of Les Paul and Mary Ford's hit's. On it, Nora gives her all, even going so far as to try and mimic Ford. On the other hand, the producers of the affair were either too hurried, cheap or both to bother overdubbing Nora's voice, which would edged the side to a certain degree of Paul-Ford verissimilitude on this knock-off of "I'm a Fool to Care."

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Dick Noel 2008

A couple of days ago my friend, singer Dick Noel, sent me a for-friends-only CD on which he artfully sings along with downloaded karaoke tracks. I guess that, even though he's fully and happily retired, he still can't stay away from the old microphone.

For those of you unfamiliar with Dick's story, let it be said that as a foremost jinglemeister and group singer his voice is surely one of the most widely heard of the last century. I recently had the pleasure and honor of sheparding the Japanese release of his magnificent 1978 solo album with pianist Larry Novak. You can read a bit more about Dick and the CD here.

These days, Dick doesn't just sound simply good for an octagenarian, but flat-out great for any age. No transposer-down he. Here's one of the tracks. I'll post some more later on in following weeks.



Friday, April 04, 2008

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Cell phones in Cuba

Brilliant article by David Lazarus in yesterday's L.A. Times about cell phones. To which I replied to the "Times" in the following email.

Though I carry a cell phone for "emergencies" (I've yet to use it) I keep the damned thing turned off. In essence it functions for me like a teeny tiny pocket payphone sans the anonymous mouthpiece germs. In addition to all the other negative charges you level against them in what---in a more just world---would be a Pulitzer Prize-winning article, my main complaint about cell phones is that they function as a hedge against increasingly encroaching disorganization in daily life. i.e. why should I bother to plan and schematize my day when I can just phone on the fly if I forget to do something, or am running late? I hate these agents of the devil even more than rap and SUVs. . .and that's a lot!