Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Irving Berlin has nothing to do with you or me.

So this ran in SPIN back in the day, in the slot where the Editor's Note went, oddly enough. As if it weren't odd enough to get paid to write about Irving Berlin. In an issue with Belinda Carlisle on the cover (hilarious story behind that one) and full of features about Poison and Tracy Chapman, OMD, Michael Hurley, Big Pig, and a ton more, with Johnny Cash, LL Cool J, Megadeth, and Soul Asylum all co-starring in the Special Summer Swimsuit Special. With accompanying guide to summer vacations in the US that guided you to The World's Largest Tire, and Einstein's Brain; plus, there was a map to Europe that declared where all the Taco Bells and Elvis Presley museums were. Which is to say, I keep realizing, that as much as SPIN drove all of us all crazy all the time, we were trying to get everything in there. Including, swear to God, Irving Berlin.

Irving Berlin has nothing to do with you or me, nothing at all. Just an old, old man from a time too far gone to bear the slightest resemblance to our own, Irving Berlin was last month's brief cultural news item, worthy of a USA Today cover sketch, deserving of 100th birthday wishes and a warm wink from the hostette of Entertainment Tonight, recipient of all manner of mass media graciousness, despite his pointed lack of participation, despite his unwillingness to create the most minimal of photo opportunities. The achievement under question wasn't the music but the extraordinary length of the man's life.  The length of his life is exactly what Irving Berlin lived to regret.

Irving Berlin and his music are so far away from us, so remote from our own dull and thrilling end of the century. Years and years before the birth of the Beatles, or of Nike footwear, Berlin quashed all requests to use his tunes to pimp products, a curious stance for a man who'd begun as the brassiest of Tin Pan Alley song pluggers, desperate to devise new ways of getting a song sung on a stage — any stage — in hope of a hit. Hits sold sheet music in those days, not CDs, and the difference is huge, undeniable, impossible to bridge.

His first hit was "Alexander's Ragtime Band." It was the work of a white man, a Jew, imitating a black style a good number of years after the black style's early innovations, at a time when white audiences were still less than receptive to the black practitioners of the style. The music bore no resemblance whatsoever to, say, the Beastie Boys.

Unlike most songwriters of our own era, Irving Berlin never learned to read music and was forced to rely on the crutch of technology in order to create. He could only play the piano in the key of F sharp, but with a special transposing piano, a mechanical device allowed him to switch keys. A pitchbending synthesizer with built-in rhythm settings and sampling capabilities is light-years away from so crude a contraption, and guitarists who rely on capos are invariably much closer to being true aesthetes than the uncouth likes of Irving Berlin.

The streets of his youth were cluttered by petty criminals and ruled by organized crime. The world of his lifetime was dominated by war and rumors of war, swept by an unfailing tide of fear and hope, and powerful joy. He was virtually the Anti-Morrissey, the veritable Jonathan Richman of his time, a relentless optimist through decade after decade of depression and despair. Born at the onset of modernism, contemporary to the greatest tragedies of history, he failed to understand that mankind was doomed to suffer, to wallow in gloom, to wear the most existentially profound of black wardrobes and stare glumly into cold cafe au lait. Instead, when he suffered profoundly after the shocking death of his new wife, he addressed his wounds frankly, he made light of his life, and he moved on. He wrote "Blue Skies." He had nothing to do with our time.

He began insinuating himself — a white man, a Jew, a Russian, an immigrant, a near-illiterate — into Tin Pan Alley and vaudeville, into a culture that was aping the culture of the black people it feared. As only the greatest of bluesmen ever do, he found a voice that was his own, a distinctly American voice that sang through the mouth of others, of millions of others. As vaudeville was destroyed by the movies and as movies found a voice and began to sing, he stayed in style. As Broadway grew ambitious and artful, as the world lurched from war to war, as show business died and moved to Las Vegas, Irving Berlin stayed in style. Through not just one generation but a half dozen, he remained in vogue. And then he lived a little too long, and all of us grew wiser than he was. Maybe living past your time is worse than a sin. Maybe we'll all get lucky and it'll never happen to any of us.

(Addendum: for a few years in a row, every few weeks or so, I'd been calling the offices of Irving Berlin Music and speaking to Mr. Berlin's longtime secretary, Hilda Schneider, continuing to ask for an opportunity to to speak with the man himself. She was pleasant but firm; I'd try to chat her up.   She'd seen, apparently, the likes of me before. No dice, damn it. But let it be said; I was getting paid to do this — well, and a few other things, like ignore the phone calls from all the West Coast publicists for record labels who were trying to beat their East Coast counterparts at getting their label's own Latest & Greatest on the cover and wedging ol' Belinda Carlisle off of it. I don't know that I was ever smart enough to suggest that if Irving Berlin would give us an exclusive interview, we'd put Hilda Schneider on the cover . . . but the thing to be said about SPIN is that we might have. )

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Irene Kuo's "The Key to Chinese Cooking" considered yet again

I've been thinking yet again of  The Key To Chinese Cooking by Irene Kuo. I've quoted from it before, and God willing, insh'Allah, I'll quote from it again. But this quote is not from the book — it's from the book's jacket. I like it tremendously. And I'm betting that it's the work of Judith Jones, the estimable Alfred A. Knopf editor who commissioned Madame Kuo's book, and who was the editor of Julia Childs' The Art of French Cooking.

"It is impossible to do more than suggest the richness and clarity of this book. Everything is here — every piece of information you need about planning, buying, preparing, cooking, timing, serving, menu suggestions, etc.  Irene Kuo is at your side. Open to any page and you will immediately recognize the true and unmistakable voice of someone who knows how, and knows how to make you know how. "

And then, immediately below, the only photo of Irene Kuo I've ever seen, cleaver in classic chopping hold — as opposed to cutting or mincing or shredding or smashing holds, all of which her mighty book describes, counsels, and prescribes according to need. She's right-handed, and because the photo is black & white, I'm only guessing that her nails are lacquered red to match the book's original dust cover, red for joy, red for good fortune, red for fire, red for luck.  

Queen Of The New Frontier

Maybe the Civil Rights Movement, just like Davy Crockett, was born on a mountain-top in Tennessee. Maybe Mona Lisa's smile is over-rated.

In December, 1955, when Mrs. Rosa Parks was escorted off a Montgomery, Alabama bus, a radio, if there was a radio on the police station desk,  would have played, smack dab in and amongst all the Christmas carols, that year's massive hits: "The Yellow Rose Of Texas," "Sixteen Tons," and, yes, "The Ballad Of Davy Crockett." A 42-year-old Alabama seamstress, another day older and deeper in debt,and like that fabled Yella Rose, a light-skinned black woman, Mrs. Parks chose to go against her husband's best advice. She turned Montgomery and then America — the real and actual America, not any of the many Americana versions, and certainly not Frontierland— into a truly wild new frontier. Five years later , John F. Kennedy would trail behind her, and behind Disney's Davy Crockett as well, in declaring the whole country, all of the United States, "A New Frontier."

The Marshal of Tombstone (from the Washington Post

The marshal of Tombstone reaches down to his gun belt, runs his hand over the black leather loops that hold the cartridges in an orderly row. His dry fingers push bullets up against the loop, six of them, one after another. One after another, he pushes six bullets down.  
The squad cars are parked with their bumpers backed up to the gate of the OK Corral, ready to roll. The southern Arizona sun is rising but the morning is still cool and quiet — maybe too quiet.

from The Washington Post, August 31, 1897 (oops, 1987)

Jimmy Stewart — The Real Thing

by Bart Bull
published in Vogue (excerpt)

On the wall nearby is a precisely rendered watercolor of a red-brown horse, a little swaybacked with age, standing alone outside a weathered stable. He gets up, stands to gaze at Henry Fonda’s painting of Pie, the horse Stewart rode in movie after movie. “This is when he was — he had to be, had to be twenty-eight years old. Half quarter-horse, half Arabian. I rode him for twenty years. Hank Fonda did this on his days off, and I didn’t know anything about it. That was Pie.” They were making Cheyenne Social Club,  and the air was too thin for the old horse, the altitude too high. “He couldn’t make it. He couldn’t make it.”

Staring at a friend’s portrait of another friend, he can’t help but admire it once more. Fonda and Stewart were practically the last of their generation, and now there’s just one of them left. But there’s more to it than that. “This friendship with Fonda over the years was tremendous. I valued it so much. Tremendous friendship, tremendous admiration for him. He was good at his job if anybody was ever good at his job. It was a terrible thing to lose him. Which happens so much, you know. I think about it every once in a while — I try not to think about it. I’ve lost so many — I’ve lost so many people. You think of somebody and then you think, ‘When did she die?’”

The rims of his eyes go moist, nearly wet, not quite. Not quite. He won’t cry, not here, to be observed and written about in a magazine. Instead, he speaks, quickly now, to distract himself. “But Fonda was a wonderful, close friend.”   The eyes contain.

Now he’s the last one left, the last star of his era. He doesn’t know why it’s worked out that way, and clearly it bothers him, confuses him just a little. When he was headed off to England during the war, his father slipped the Ninety-first Psalm into his hand — “For He shall give His angels charge over thee. . .” and maybe that helps explain it some, but it’s hard not to wonder. His last movie was made half a decade ago, but even as the unseen voice on the current Campbell’s soup ads, he moves miles past the typical too-sweet lemonade commercial grandfather, lulling us with that querulous voice and then always adding more edge than we could expect. If he were sent the right script, something he could sink his teeth into, would he be ready to do another picture?

“Sure,” he answers. Not a moment’s hesitation, none of his legendary pauses. “Sure.” No stammer, no stutter. “Sure. Sure.”

He considers a moment. “Can’t play cowboys anymore.”

Black Desire — A Love Story, At Home, With Family

The French can rock.  Just ask them: they'll blast Noir Désir. Then, over the crashing, clashing, clanging guitars, the bludgeoned butcher-block beats, the squawling, the howling, amidst and across all that cigarette smoke, they'll tell how the singer beat his movie-star girlfriend to death.

Before Bertrand Cantat came along, France longed desperately for a Jim Morrison of its very own. Cantat more than fit the role: pop culture poet, pure, political, primitive, pissed off, pug-nosed, pretty. 
En plus, he's also a convicted killer, the kind who beats his girlfriend into a coma, the kind of coma where she dies. And Marie Trintignant did just that, on August 1, 2003, four days after she took her beating. She was 41, an exceptionally accomplished actress, and yet a bit of a rebel, in that hushed, privileged, bourgeois-French kind of way. Her father, Jean-Louis Trintignant, is a famous actor as well; Nadine Trintignant, her mother, a famous director. Marie was classically pretty but she was also sexy, sensual, sultry,  perhaps a wee bit insane. Watching her on screen you were wary and slightly afraid, even a little excited to see what she might do next. What she did next, on location in Lithuania, playing the part of Colette in one of her mother's films, was get savagely beaten to death in her own hotel room by France's own rock 'n' roll Rimbaud. 

She'd fallen on the radiator, he said. It was one of his least poetic lines.

Cantat served four years of an eight-year sentence — if they don’t exactly get off scot-free in France, poet-geniuses are at least cut some signicant slack . . . and who could deny that making the French language rock is anything short of genius? In January of this year, a little over three years after he got out, Bertrand was at the home of a former girlfriend, mother of his two kids, the one he'd left for Marie. The two talked, visited, went to bed. Sometime in the night, while he was sleeping, Cantat’s lover committed suicide – it was one of the children who found her the next morning in the kitchen, hanging from a cord.

Since the night when Bertrand Cantat beat Marie Trintignant’s face so hard that her entire body eventually succumbed, there has been almost no news from France’s biggest rock band. Back when Cantat was still in jail, rumors ran rife that he was writing songs in his cell, that he was being let out on day passes to join the rest of Noir Désir in the studio. There were those two free downloads the band issued not long after Cantat’s release, but aside from that, nothing much, not much at all. There was a deal, though —in the music business, there are always deals. After he'd cut a deal with authorities — his newly-adjusted parole includes the right to travel, and the right to speak freely of Trintignant — Cantat and the rest of his crew cut another deal, this time with their record label. Three albums. To be delivered before even the French quit purchasing CDs.

Bertrand Cantat’s first stage appearance 
apres prison took place the first weekend of October at an idyllic festival in his home district of Bordeaux. He was performing not with his own band — they've remained deathly silent — but with the ultra-predictably-named Eiffel. Announced at the last minute, all France was alerted. His first words? "Ah, ca fait plaisir, en plus a la maison et en famille." "It's a pleasure to be at home, and with family."  Then he went on to encore with  "I'm the world's forgotten boy.....the one who's searching to destroy..." from Iggy and the Stooges.

Arizona: Copper, Cotton, Citrus, Cattle, and Crazy

Arizona's first state governor wasn't a Pontiac dealer.  Instead, he was a Zoroastrian. It was the Pontiac dealer — the guy who came in after the one-eyed newspaper columnist and then, eventually, the Mexican-born ex-boxer named Castro — it was the Pontiac dealer who officially outlawed Martin Luther King Day. Then there was that early governor who refused to approve the state flag. But the governor who saw UFOs over Phoenix came along way after that, after nearly all of them. Then he founded a French cooking school. (There'll be a test on this later, so take notes.)

A white pyramid looms over the mountains where Phoenix and Scottsdale and Tempe huddle up together, marking the tomb of that first Zoroastrian governor guy. But since nobody remembers him, or knows why there's a white pyramid parked against the red rocks and cactus, or can figure out just what a Zoroastrian is, it serves as a symbol of just exactly how Arizona has always been. Arizona is intentionally weird, oddball squared, a place where bold eccentrics have historically stumbled up to see just how they stacked up against the nutjobs who were currently running the joint.

Some of those nutjobs, of course, were those dang Indians — like, for instance, the Apaches, who were said to be able to run 50 miles a day (and bear in mind that Arizona was hot as hell, even before they paved it). It's hard to understand why the US Cavalry didn't just turn their horses around and go pick on the Hopi, who were pushovers, and a lot slower too. Perhaps this is why even today our license plates say "The Grand Canyon State" rather than "Famous Frybread."

Tombstone, "The Town Too Tough To Die," became "The Town Too Tourist-Dependent To Close Until 9:15 PM," but that was later. Scottsdale used to be "The West's Most Western Town," but that was before it became a golf course. Phoenix was built right on top of a system of canals that had originally been constructed by the Hohokam Indians, who wisely disappeared, apparently annoyed by the sight of Apaches sprinting back and forth down the canal road. Tucson (pronounced "Tuk-sin") has traditionally been distinguished by its lack of canals, and by the fact that it was never the West's Most anything, save perhaps its saving grace. Still, it features Old Tucson, where all the Western films that weren't filmed in Hollywood were committed, or occurred.

Arizona, a place that has been, among other things, part of Old Spain, New Spain, Mexico, New Mexico, Sonora, the official State of Deseret, the Gadsden Purchase, the Compromise of 1850, the glorious Confederacy, the glorious Union, the State of Nevada, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the Seven Lost Cities of Cibola, and . . . well, those dang Indians were so lousy at writing any names down. Anyway, Arizona has a proud right to an everlasting identity crisis.

Sure, the Clantons and the Earps were genuine trouble, one and all imported from out of state —snowbirds, in Arizona lingo. But during my own lifetime, the Devil's Disciples and Satan's Slaves and the Mongols and the Bandidos and the Hells Angels and the Vagos and all manner of other well-meaning darlings have been among the genuine outlaws. (I used to have a safety-card from one of those charming dance-clubs, until the Secretary-Treasurer needed back, because it was the only one he had, and there were cute girls in the bar he wanted to impress.) Arizona is the proud state that first established the law that you couldn't wear your hogleg six-shootin' pistol into the topless club, a fine example of our state's firm, focused grasp on practical jurisprudence.

But 'twas ever thus. John C. Fremont, Arizona's first territorial governor, spent most of his career exploring California, for which you can hardly blame him. He was told he had to reside in Arizona, or resign. He resigned.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Burg(h)ers of France

Burger King abandoned France but the French, no matter their reputation, have never retreated from the Whopper.

There are numerous petitions, claiming 30,000 signatures, have demanded Burger King's return. Louis the XVII would have been settled for so much.

Does it help, or does it hurt, to know that the second most prominent burger chain, McDonalds's is massive here, and non-burger-vending KFC is pretty mega too.  Does it confound or confuse or confabulate to know that the biggest burger chain, Quick (prounced Quee-eeek, mon ami) is actually owned by the French govenment?

Meanwhile, burgers here, as purchased raw at the le supermarche, arrive oval-shaped. Don't ask me why — and also don't ask me why, once you cook 'em, they shrink proportionately, or disproportionately, until they're round. It's kind of amazing, and kind of concerning all in the same instant.  I can offer you no answer as to what's up with that, much less what the hell it means.  In any case, an ambitious young Parisian has created what must inevitably be called a Hip-Hopera, an all-singing, all-dancing rejoicing en la rue that explores the devastating departure of Burger King, and then, in the happy tradition of musicals everywhere, serves up as a last-act the triumphant romantic return of the Whopper.  

Saturday, January 18, 2014

How Burt Reynolds Personally Invented Film Noir (En Bronzage du Soleil) Late One Friday Evening On His Front Porch In The Everglades

Stick, starring Burt Reynolds, directed by Burt Reynolds
by Bart Bull
(published in The Arizona Republic)
(For almost exactly one year, I reviewed movies for the daily newspaper in my hometown.  It was weird, and weirdly fun, and weird too.  Seeing pretty much every movie that came out over the course of a year gave me the sense that the movie business was coming unstuck at the seams.  Which, I'd now say, it was.  Anyway, I did get to see Burt Reynolds' Stick, and for some reason, I was getting away with murder as far as movie-reviewing goes, so.....)

 I'd hate to have anyone go see Stick on my say-so, but if you're even faintly interested in Burt Reynolds as a movie-star//phenomenon/entity/whatchyacallit, you can't hardly afford to miss it.

Not that it's any good, because Stick is one of the most inept, uncoordinated, disjointed, confused, and confusing movies you'll ever pay to see. There are times when you're not going to believe that anybody could ever have released so limp a blimp, but there it is, stinking loudly from the screen.

Burt is the director as well as the star, and Burt is indubitably the auteur. Everything about Stick is a reflection of his sensibilities; set in Miami, the movie seems to keep edging toward the Everglades, where a man's man can let his chest hair breathe and his toupee flap in the swampy breeze of the airboat's propwash. What works about Stick is not the plot or the characterization or the acting --- it's the curious obsessiveness that keeps oozing through all the gaps, like mud between the toes.

Anyone who's ever seen Miami and it's horny little sister Miami Beach knows that they reek of evil. As much and even more than Los Angeles, Miami is the perfect setting for a detective thriller and if Stick is too loose-ended to be very thrilling, it manages all the same to be extraordinarily evil. Shoddy and slapdash, as finely tuned as your boss's vacation home movies from Yosemite, Stick haphazardly manages to be a filmic landscape of the second humid circle of art deco hell.

I'd talk plot but I got lost only moments after the credits rolled and I'd defy you to do much better. This one's even more boggled a mystery than City Heat [Ex post facto historical note: City Heat was an equally or perhaps even more disastrous film, financially, aesthetically, and spiritually, from the previous Christmas, almost immediately buried deep in an unmarked grave, co-starring Burt and Clint Eastwood, who so clearly had such little time for one another that they barely appeared in any scenes together, which necessarily meant adding secondary characters attached to and orbiting each Star in order that they could each explain out loud what was going on in the plot since the Star under loud cinematic discussion had last been seen in the picture long minutes or so before, which seemed, under the circumstances, especially with the added expositional dialog, like hours ago}; Osterizer should get a scriptwriting credit. Plot doesn't matter here and neither does character because Reynolds is as thoroughly lost in his image as any screen actor has ever been. He has no idea at this point whether he's Gator McCluskey, or W.W. of the Dixie Dance Kings or the man who diddled Cat Dancing or Dan August or Stroker Ace or Smokey or the Bandit. He wears, at one point, the same zipped down wetsuit he wore in Deliverance; he wears, at nearly every other point, the same silly smirk he's worn every time he's done a movie with his acting skills set on cruise-control.

As for anybody else, they're uniformly atrocious. Charles Durning is Shelley Winters; Candice Bergen plays the smirking blond debutant who looks like Candice Bergen; the greasers are greaseballs; the greaseballs are greasers. I'm near-positive that no more racist movie has come out of Hollywood in years, and I don't think it's any coincidence that it contains one of the greatest funniest and most cutting characterizations of a black survivor (excepting only Pryor and Murphy) that the screeen has seen since the '60s.

Early on, this thing feels like Burt sat out on the porch one Friday evening in Florida, getting drunk and throwing beer cans at flamingos while he watched Miami Vice, and and then and there decided to direct and produce his own segment of the show. While he was at it, he decided to guest star too, and he forgot to put any of the show's actual stars in at all. By Saturday afternoon, he'd shot the basic footage; Sunday, he slept off his hangover. On Monday morning LA time, long after noon in the Everglades, he began making phone calls.

When the show's producers rejected his concept on the following Friday, he got drunk all over again and decided to turn the project into a full-length feature blockbuster, the kind of thing that would revitalize his whole career. Jerry Reed was busy in Nashville; Loni Anderson wouldn't return his calls; Tammy Wynette told him to get lost; Dinah Shore was golfing; Sally Field had an Oscar and didn't need him any more; Dom DeLuise was too busy taping GladBag commercials. Then came the final indignity: Pontiac refused to provide another Trans Am.

Nothing could stop him, no obstacle was too high. This movie was gong to get made. When he saw Glenn Frey's video for "Smuggler's Blues," he tried to get Frey involved. When Frey's manager Irving Azoff wouldn't return his calls, Burt hired a guy who looked a lot like Glenn Frey after about ten tequilas too many and stuck him in the movie. That would teach 'em.

He would make this movie, he would direct it himself, he would be the biggest movie star in America again, and the biggest director and the biggest dinner-theater owner in Florida too.

He thought about composing the score himself but decided the critics would say he was over-reaching. He'd personally witnessed the fall of Jackie Gleason, who'd once based himself in Florida too. It was too late to consider another man's mistakes.

Carol Burnett's personal assistant left a message on the answering machine that said she'd only do it if the location was in Hawaii. He considered it for a moment but he already had too much Miami footage from that first long weekend. If he had it all to do over, he'd have set it in the Okefenokee Swamp, and Stick would have been a runnin' gunnin' moonshinin' redneck detective. It was too late for that now. It was too late for a lot of things.

He established a film endowment at Tampa Community College; the first term's class project would be a documentary entitled The Making of Stick, Starring Mr. Burt Reynolds. Midway through the project, the 20-year-old coed producing the film quit to become a stand-up comic in Hollywood --- the Hollywood in California, not the one in Florida. The documentary would never be completed.

As the studio head examined the rushes and rough cuts from Stick, they began to get nervous. "Burt looks like refried death," one let slip to Marilyn Beck. They threatened to shut the production down unless Burt submitted to a full physical examination. The results have never been made public but Stick, intended to be released last fall, was reslotted into the spring schedule to compete head-to-head, mano a mano with Fraternity Vacation and Cave Girl and Gotcha and Gymkata. There was a slim hope that Burt might still draw the crowds.

And when it was done, when it was all over, when it was released at last and attacked by the critics and ignored by audiences from coast to coast, he knew that he had won. He knew that he'd made a movie that was truly and completely decadent, that smelled as much of rot and corruption and depravity as Florida itself, that was as loose-knit as a lunatic's hit-list, that was as lost and out of control as Hollywood.

He was Burt Reynolds, after all, last of the real movie stars, and this movie was his own.

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Computer In Your Own Home!

The year 1977, as it turns out, was revolutionary. As decades fly by, we may not remember it as the year punk broke through, the year  skateboarders got vertical.  Instead, history may be more likely to mark it as the epoch-changing moment when the computer came home.

Until 1977, computers were mega-massive fearsome things, punch-card spewing titans that sprawled across huge laboratories, reels reeling, demanding air-conditioning and dust-proofing. They were tempestuous beasts with an appetite for electricity, tended by tiny bald men with white coats and clipboards., a

Suddenly, amazingly, unexpectedly, miraculously, computers entered the home — after knocking politely. They had odd, funny, and now nearly-forgotten names: Commodore, Tandy/Radio Shack, Apple. And they did amazing things, totally astonishing feats that we can't help but laugh about now, but which seemed totally astonishing at the time, damn it. We loved them. We all remember our first one, even though some of us have a hard time recalling the last name of our first love.

Oh, and 1977 was the year the name "Microsoft" was registered.

How Ants Ate Krishnamacharya's Homework

When Indra Devi came though the majestic gilded doors of the palace at Mysore, she was entering one of the most whirling, swirling, stirring crucibles of 20th Century culture. Mysore was a melange, a stew, a gumbo — it was an incomparable mulligatawny. The Maharaja of Mysore was acclaimed, often even by the very British administrators who had been instructed to keep an eye on him, as perhaps the greatest governor they had ever heard of or read about — not merely in colonial India, or  in all the colonies, but anywhere — and they were typically transformed by the experience. He was a patron of the arts and a creator of them — he played half a dozen instruments with true mastery, and half a dozen more with mere competence. He was a true disspeller of darkness: he created hydro-electric dams and the power lines that would bring electricity to all his people, even the lowest, and he founded schools of learning and language that preserved the old while encouraging the new. He was determined to restore the ancient arts of India even while flinging his kingdom's windows open to the new light of the West. He was likely the only great philosopher-king of the Twentieth Century. And he encouraged Krishnamacharya to establish his school of Yoga within the gloriously-decorated walls of the palace.

All contemporary Yoga stems from the palace at Mysore. Yet, curiously, Yoga's much-declared "lineage" may be — at least according to Western standards — composed less of history and heritage and tradition than fabrication, fraud, and wishful thinking. It involves secret scrolls, mysterious Tibetan caves . . . and the voracious ants who apparently thrive in those chilly Tibetan caves, thoughtfully chewing up the secret scrolls just in time to foil those who might care to have a quick look at them. Meanwhile, the Yoga school of Krishnamacharya more closely resembled a 1920s YMCA gym full of boisterous Brahmin boys than it did what we'd think of Yoga classes, and one of his biggest Yogic influences (if we discount the ant colonies of the mystic caves of Tibet, where he seems never to have gone anyway, if we're going to let facts factor in) were a set of British music hall tumblers who came to entertain the Maharaja.

Sex And Lies And Dutronc

March, 2009

(Here's a little something I did earlier this year (en Anglais, remerciez Dieu!) for an oddly-titled French publication that hasn't actually gotten around to paying yet, of course, but will, undoubtedly, certainly, soon. Mais oui! It was, however, lavishly illustrated with some of Jean-Marier Perier's amazing, startling photos, including one of Jacques Dutronc lounging in the black interior of a yellow '69 Pontiac Firebird convertible while thoroughly surrounded by naked women. I'm not sure any of my writing has ever been so pleasantly illustrated.)

“To tell the truth, you must lie.”  
Jean-Marie Perier

Possibly there are more important questions about Jacques Dutronc. Still, I have less curiosity about his living arrangement with Francoise Hardy than.... well, than practically anybody else in France. She with her quiet Paris apartment, he in his Corsican villa legendarily crawling with cats, with fifty cats, or sixty cats, or seventy cats, or more. They, together, a couple for forty years, married for more than twenty-five; how do they do it? My burning question, the only one that matters to me: Just how many cats does Jacques Dutronc actually have?

At his early career peak, Dutronc unleashed a set of sardonic songs, satirized the excesses of the moment, a moment that has since been lumped together lumpily as The Sixties. Dutronc, whose hair was only long-ish, long-esque, at a time of long-nosity, wore very stylish but very proper suits at a time of paisley and purple and Nehru collars. He was a bespoke set of ironic quotation marks. Much more a rocker than his peers on the French pop charts, he dressed instead as an up-swinging broker of stocks, a ruling-party political hopeful. It was a joke, sort of. He was a playboy (just when his pal Daniel Filipacchi was selling French Playboy back to a startled Hugh Hefner), surrounded in photos by women en deshabille. His mere proximity, said the photos, worked as a powerful anti-clothing device for women, yet he himself managed to keep unmussed and amused.

Earlier, hanging handsomely around Le Golf Druout — the ‘60’s CBGB’s of Rock Et Roll En France, with shing-a-lingin’ copains et copines, as instructed by the arm-and-leg-flinging likes of Sheila and Clo-Clo, stomping et tromping around the 16th fairway of a mini-golf course above an English tea room in Paris — the young Jacques is just another guitar-playing loup garou impatiently waiting for his mini-tee-time with fate. His greatest asset? His look, casting his ironic blue eyes up and out and at and through you from a deGaulle-esque height. And perhaps the fact that in a time of astonishingly bad bandnames (Les Chaussettes Noires; Hector & Les Mediators; Gil Now & Les Turnips), he achieves a bandname that rings out in awe-inspirational awfulness: El Toro et les Cyclones.

For this, apparently, he is made musical director of Vogue Records. But in an elevator with Jacques Lanzmann, founder of Lui, greatest skin magazine in the inglorious history of such, they are joined by Antoine, hippie kid who has just blown youthful French brains with “Le Elucubrations.” A legend in his own mind, Antoine cuts them dead, ignores the be-suited salarymen, and righteously pisses ‘em off. Together , apres lunch, they write “Et Moi, Et Moi, Et Moi,” a meta-parody of such youthful self-orbitration, and Dutronc is launched.
Dutronc’s music, Lanzmann’s lyrics, these are certainly, unquestionably some of what made Dutronc into a central icon of the late ‘6os — the only popstar ever noticed (and thus, automatically, denounced) by Guy Debord, Pope of Situationism. But in fact, as good as this music is and enduring as it has turned out to be, there’s no question that much of Dutronc is his image, and it arrived first in the photos of Jean-Marie Perier, Dutronc’s friend, the man he replaced at the side of Francoise Hardy.

“For thirty years, my work was shit. Now they tell me it’s art. It’s neither art nor shit. It was just pictures to put on the wall of young people to make them dream.”
Jean-Marie Perier

Jean-Marie was the photographer for Salut Les Copains, a magazine that showed up in France in the early ‘60s and instantaneously gathered in all the pop moment as no other publication ever has. If one man had singlehandedly invented MTV in the early 1980s . . . but MTV never had as much impact in any single pop universe as SLC had in France. It was everything, and Jean-Marie’s photos were everything about SLC. The only direction he ever received from his friend and boss, Daniel Fillipacchi, was this: “The parents must hate your pictures.”
As SLC arrived, so did Francois Hardy, but so much more quietly. “Everybody in Paris, in show business,” Jean-Marie observes, “was obsessed by America, because America is the future in this time. They’re all trying to look American. Suddenly Francoise arrives. She has a French name, she writes her lyrics, and she makes original stories in her music. She is the only one! Everyone else is a copy. And she had a French name.”
It’s her complete lack of ye’-ye’ loco-motion, her disinclination to twist disrhythmically, that distinguishes her. She will become, whether we in the English-speaking world ever got it or not, the first Girl With A Guitar. Silent, serene, seventeen, she stands in front of Jean-Marie and his camera and she captures the Canal St. Martin, le Tour Eiffel, him, his Nikon, and all the rest of us. She begins, mild and beatified and bemused, as if she happens to know the precise spot where Lourdes and Fatima triangulate with the 14th Arrondissement, as though she’s perfectly prescient about how many cats Jacques Dutronc will posess in Corsica in the year 2009. Presumably Jean-Marie treated her to a croque madame to celebrate before dropping her back home to la mere. He was, after all, as dazzled as the rest of us.

“She was extremely beautiful — she didn’t know it — and she was great, especially for a girl of her age, and especially for a guy who’s in love with her.” And what follows, what transpires, what we can still see, is the greatest series of photographs a lover has made of just how lovely his love is. And she is. Dante’s Beatrice was kind of butt-ugly by way of comparison. Nobody ever loved Marilyn Monroe or Audrey Hepburn nor Louise Brooks in quite this way.

But Jean-Marie cuts to the chase. Or in this case, the crash. “So we live together five years, and then one day she tellls me, ‘I’ve met someone.’ I met her when I was twenty-two, she was seventeen ... we were children. Ok, life separates us, voila... I said, ‘Alright, so I want to meet him....’ Because for me, it would not have been possible to not love the person that she loves, since I love her. She’s my best friend, so who she loves, I will love.” A pause. “So she presents me Jacques." Another pause, but shorter. "For at least two years, I was more in love with him than with her.

“And with his music, it’s the same thing as with Francoise six years before. These are the two who are saying things in their music, Francoise and Jacques, because all the rest of the singers are singing stupid lyrics, stupid copies of stupid songs.
“Plus Jacques had an.... insolence? Isn’t that the right word? So loose, so....almost aggressive, that all the people in the business, I mean all the singers, used to go and look at him ....What he was daring to do on stage, he was daring so much! When Giscard was President, a big charity show, and the announcer asks Jacques, ‘What do you think about singing in front of the President?’ And Jacques pushes the President — like this! — and says to the crowd, ‘I fuck him like a rat at the pinball machine!’" Jean-Marie is pensive. "Jacques was the most insolent person of all the Sixties and Seventies.”

“Eddie Barclay said, just before he died, ‘Today there is more business than show.’” Jean-Marie Perier

Looking at Jean-Marie’s photos of Francoise Hardy, a friend said, and with truth, “But she doesn’t look this way any longer.” C’est vrai; this can be said of us all. She has returned to be the sixty-some-year-old version of the petit-bourgois French schoolgirl she was when her life exploded merely because she wrote a few simple songs. She has fulfilled that girl’s destiny. But more, much more: Once Jean-Marie’s astonished, astonishingly loving photographic eye left her, once his eye fell more modestly away, she was free, in her way, to be perhaps even a bit more of an artist, but ever so less an icon. It’s easier to be an artist than an icon, and surely so for Francoise Hardy. Pursued hotly by Mick Jagger, by Bob Dylan, by Peter Sellers, by the florist’s assistant down the street, by any guy with eyes, she is now the mother of Thomas Dutronc, manouche guitarist, gypsy-esque Djangoist of much modesty and some style, who waited into his thirties before bothering to venture near the mass-media launching pad that was his inadvertant birthright; of whom his mother has said, in effect, in her way, “He’s really quite good....”

And an email, as I write, from Jean-Marie:

“Jacques has actually 30 cats.”

In journalism, accuracy is all.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Aphorism Number 27; One of a Series; Collect the Whole Set!

Over coffee the other morning, we're looking at some of Jean-Marie Perier's photos, and among the hundreds that burst across the line of genius, there are some flash-blasted black & whites, young Bob Dylan being mobbed, Beatle-style, outside a stage-door in Paris.  It was,  Jean-Marie says, entirely a set-up, a fraud, a composed composition, a faux-Weegee (as Weegee himself was known to shove the murdered corpses around a bit before he snapped the shutter of the SpeedGraphic, before the flashbulb roared.)

Jean-Marie shrugs.

"To tell the truth, you must lie."

Aphorism Number Seven: Arizona (One of a Series; Collect 'em All!)

Arizona is where the Old West crawled off to die. Or if not actually to die, then at least establish a cranky early retirement.
Bart Bull

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Aphorisme Seventy — One of a Series; Collect The Whole Set!

"That may well be the way that we can best determine the ghetto parts and the barrio parts of LA from the non-ghetto, non-barrio parts — the presence or, conversely, the absence of valet parking, and then its effect on diminishing the prospect of great food."