Saturday, November 10, 2007

Springsteen Cases The Promised Land
(Part One)
(Of a Whole Bunch)

by Bart Bull
(published in
Sounds, 1975)

It's
Wednesday, no show tonight,
and Bruce and his guitar player, a guy called Miami Steve Van Zandt, and another guy, remarkably and conveniently named R.M, who turns out to be road manager for something called Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, are all wandering around the Arizona State Fair, looking for something to do in Phoenix F. Arizona on their night off. Bruce was more than a little disappointed at only getting two encores at last night's show, and now . . . now there's this Hollywood business. It's getting to be a real drag.

"They got me going to California on Thursday after the show," It sounds especially ominous the way he delivers it. " . . . some guy . . . " And then, even worse, to actually have to talk to him. Striding down the midway with his tough guy punk walk, the tough punk walk that fits him right in with every other tough guy punk who's cruising past the corn-dogs, sauntering beyond the all the flashing bulbs on all the Tilt-A-Whirls and the Swedish Bobsleds and the Haunted Houses of Horror, and Bruce is mostly and mainly distinguished by his distracted thoughtful look, and by the fact that there's a red-headed photographer scrambling over all kinds of obstacles to grab just the exact right perfect shot off this one particular tough-walking punk at the State Fair. It's real late on a real slow week-night in those last final days when the State Fair has pretty much shot its wad (they've got to be losing money just by being open) and the carneys aren't hustling like they would if there was anything that vaguely resembled a crowd. It's empty, pretty much, and pretty much dead. Besides, Springsteen and R.M. and Miami Steve (Bruce never calls him Steve, and never even just shorthands it down to "Miami," it's always "MYYY-AMI-STE-Eee-EVE!") are spectacularly easy marks. You'd never guess they grew up within stumbling distance of the Asbury Park, New Jersey boardwalk.

Matter of fact, Miami Steve even falls for that one where you try to toss ping-pong balls into glass ashtrays, with the ashtrays floating and spinning as they swirl around a blue-green plastic wading pool. A genuine sucker's shot, one that nobody ever wins, nobody ever, except maybe that long and lean lantern-jawed cowboy over there, the one with larceny in mind, that Cottonwood cowpoke who's looking surreptitiously side to side, waiting ultra-obviously until the carneys allegedly aren't looking — because, you know, they've never ever had any local Wednesday night cowboy attempt to put one over one 'em before — and then, leaning way, way, wa-a-ay over, and ever . . . so . . . gently . . . and — Da-amn! But eventually he somehow finally manages to actually slip one in, and then the carneys grab up a big giant stuffed St. Bernard and toss it back and forth among themselves, semi-bored, chanting "Anothah winnah! Anoth-ah win-nah!!" and big Tex is grinning his jaw so hard it looks like he actually believes he won a stuffed dog on the up-and-up square and so, to properly focus her attentions, he keeps a steady pumping motion of his elbow right directly into his cowgirl companion's ribs all the while. Miami Steve catches all the hoopla and decides, the perfect victim of the shill, that this has got to be his game. He plunks down his buck, gets his dozen ping-pong balls and commences tossing. The astonishing experience of watching ball after ball hit dead center and then bounce blithely right back out again begins to get to him, so he sort of sidles over to the blond kid in the ponytail and gets him to secretly slip him some of the balls that have rolled under the counter. It's a ploy that nets him maybe a couple of extra balls, but to no avail whatsoever. He strikes out. Daunted but entirely undaunted, only just slightly dejected, he rushes and hustles to catch up with Bruce over at the video machines.

The two of them start out with a duck hunting game, then they move over to "Anti-Aircraft," shooting down fighter planes as they jet across the screen to the sound of engines roaring and calamitous explosions. "We got it! This is our machine," chortles Miami Steve, a winner at last, yanking at his artillery controls. "This is our machine, Boss!" The Boss is leaning back grim-lipped and silent, trying to gun down the jet that just shot past Miami Steve. The game trailer attendant is eyeballing them impatiently —as soon as their last plane goes down with a sputtering spluttering buzz, he reaches up to lower the trailer's siding, which has been propped up to create a roof. Bruce and Miami Steve are searching their pockets for more quarters, entirely oblivious, but when the carney starts to lower the siding right down on top of them, Miami Steve stage-whispers, "I think they're trying to give us a message..."

Looking for a way out, winding around the fairgrounds, they break into two bunches. Miami Steve and the redheaded photographer are profoundly engaged in a philosophical discussion at a volume level right on the borderline between debate and armed combat.
Springsteen, R.M., and the blond kid are lagging. "I kinda O.D.'ed on interviews," Springsteen says, scuffing his boot at an empty popcorn box. Within the week, he'll be on the cover of both Time and Newsweek simultaneously. "Everybody wants to spend all their time talkin' about what we're doin'. All I want to do is do it, but it's gettin' harder and harder." His speaking voice is surprisingly identical to the pained Brando-esque voice on his recordings. It would sound affected if it didn't come so easily. Maybe it was an affectation back in some dim and obscure adolescence, when some skinny kid first tried it on in front of his friends, like a too-new leather jacket, unworn, unstained, with not a rip or a scratch. Now, nicely broken-in, nothing could fit more naturally.

Both the two small groups pass by the flag-draped stage only just vacated by "Poncie Ponce — TV's Favorite Hawaiian cabdriver!" and "his Royal Hawaiian Revue." (Poncie Ponce was once a sort of sub-sidekick on "Surfside Six;" with a billing like that, you can't help but wonder who works out to be TV's least favorite Hawaiian cabdriver.) Outside the Exhibition Hall, where prize cattle and sheep are settling in for the night, there is a wooden box, painted as if to resemble an old fashioned red barn, but with a glass showcase in front. On the other side of the glass resides a chicken, a white hen who will, if a dime is shoved into the slot, begin to tap-dance. Miami Steve sees the sign over the miniature barn, "Dancing Chicken," and hollers back over his shoulder to Springsteen: "Hey, here's one of them chickens!"

There is a metal floor beneath the bird, and when the dime drops, electricity is conducted, and the chicken hops and skips and jumps and does its best to keep from touching the hot-wired floor it has to touch. Springsteen swing his hands-in-pocket shuffling to steer by the chicken's cage, staring in silently. Concerned, perhaps, or maybe just reconciled, the bird stares back. No wisdom is exchanged. "Those poor chickens. In Jersey, it's against the law to do that." This, however, is Arizona; not every state is so enlightened. He jams his hands into his pockets even more fiercely, then begins to mumble to himself. Looking up at R.M., he says, "I don't think I wanna go. Mike keeps tellin' me I gotta go, but I'll just get on some plane and go there and meet this guy and then get back on some other plane. I don't think I'm gonna go." His boot heels are dragging hard against the fairgrounds. The chicken is still staring as he goes. Maybe it's waiting for the next dime to drop.

"Okay with me," says R.M. "You're the Boss."


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Friday, November 9, 2007

Aphorism Number Fourteen; (One of a Series; Collect 'em All

There's one universal, undeniable truth: We're all going out the same door.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Tracey Ullman: Just Being Herselves

by Bart Bull
(published in Vogue)

To get to Tracey Ullman's closet, you need to go through the bathroom. You don't really need to go through there, but she wants you to; it makes for a more colorful tour. The color is purplish, in fact, or lilac, sort of, or actually a turbo-charged neon mauve. "The man who lived here before was a Czechoslovakian plastic surgeon," she says, delivering the next line in the cigar-chewing gurgle of an elderly Las Vegas lounge comic, complete with perfectly-timed pause for the drummer's rim shot: "And if he does this to his house, what does he do to your body?" Ullman plans to have his remarkable upholstered toilet seat enshrined in a clear Lucite case and mounted on the wall.

She has fewer shoes than Imelda Marcos but they make a far more interesting mess at the bottom of her closet. She's down there now, flinging out Tony Lama cowboy boots and alarming French wedgies with rock star photo patches sewn to the heels and then this . . . this fairly restrained bustier. "Every girl has one of these Madonna bodice-type tops, these slaggy Stevie Nicks-type things. Though they look terribly sad on someone like me, who breast-fed a nine pound infant." She sweeps an unmatched pair of her daughter Mabel's Barbie dolls off the dressing table to clear more room and discovers a complicated sweater by her idol, her all-time absolute favorite, Jean Paul Gaultier. "My friend last night said it falls into every cardigan category. He said, 'You like it because you're not wearing one cardigan, you're wearing every cardigan.' But I do love it, because you wear it and people get frightened."

When it comes to Gaultier, it's impossible for her to keep from rhapsodizing, and she readily admits it. "He's the king for me. I just think he's brilliant, I really do. He still has an element of street about him as well. I went to his shop in Paris last summer — I'd never done any shopping in Paris until last year. I told my husband, 'Go bog off — I'm going shopping in Paris.' First time I'd ever had the money, I'm in Paris, and it was a truly debilitating experience. They were so rude to me. [Smarmy French accent, wreathed in Gauloise smoke]: 'What do you want, stupid British girl?'

"They were so rude — the only people who were nice were a couple of Japanese people who had just opened a shop and were desperate to sell gear. It was horrible. At one boutique, they practically spat at me. Until I got my Platinum American Express card out and said, 'Look! Look!'" She laughs uproariously at the sheer folly of it. "They didn't give a damn.

"It wasn't good fun at all shopping there. Then again, in Beverly Hills, the people who work for the top places are all like [pursed lips, dysfunctional adenoids]: 'Millie, seventy-two, I've worked in sales a long, long time . . . Oh, this is just beau-ti-ful! The colors this season are so gwargeous!'"

"Here's a bit of Christian Lacroix," and she yanks free a finely detailed glass-beaded top. "Had a skirt that went with it — it's here somewhere. I wore this to an awards show and the zipper burst as I went onstage.

"I love clothes," she declares from deep inside the closet, where the hangers are all clumped together. "I love fashion. I used to work in shops on the King's Road when I was sixteen. I was always one who saved up weeks for a decent skirt." Her head is buried deep in the closet again. "And always somewhere I have a leather miniskirt. I just bought another one, and I know it will be the last one of my life, 'cause I know I'm getting too ridiculously old to wear leather miniskirts. I put it on and I do look a bit tragic.

"I mean, I don't even keep my clothes in a very nice state or anything. I'm like a magpie; I'll wear anything unusual or bright. But when yousee these Beverly Hills women who pay twelve thousand dollars and they're sitting at one of those functions with their big freckly armpits hanging over the edge of their bustier— I'd like to bring Christian Lacroix to a Beverly Hills function. 'Don't look now, Christian, but there's a fat tart in one of your frocks.' 'Merde! '

"The Japanese gear, I haven't really gotten into that — the black, baggy, shapeless trousers with the big sort of platform shoes. I mean, some people spend like four thousand dollars they look like a bag of spanners. So they have to keep reminding you who designed it. [Voice of a schlumpf]: 'Djya like the jacket? It's by, uh, Matsudo, ya know?'"

She's back in the closet. "This is the first piece of Gaultier I ever bought," she says, cradling a charcoal shirt in both hands. [Elaborate stage whisper] "Cost me three hundred pounds. I couldn't believe i had a Gaultier shirt. It was like a dream. Always looked a bit strange on me, though.

"Here's my Tracey Ullman Show jacket." It's a perfect example of what fashionable Hollywood cameramen can be seen wearing in supermarkets. "Can you imagine if I wore that? [Dopey TV star]: 'Hey, that's ME! It's MY SHOW!'"

Her own closets revealed, Ullman can't resist invading her husband's. "these are the suits he buys now he's got a bit of money. These over here are the ones he used to buy off the back of the lorry. All men in England have to buy stolen suits. They can't bear to pay the retail price. And these" — she laughs even as she touches them — are his trendy shirts."

Mabel's closets are next. Ullman sweeps up a blue wool coat with wooden toggle buttons down the front. "I love this, her little Paddington Bear coat — so very British. She wore it once and threw up all down the front. You can still smell the vomit on it." She acquires a thoughtful, puzzled look. "So hard to remove the smell from designer wear, you know."

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Aphorism Number Fifteen; (one of a series; collect 'em all)

Love the sinner; like the sin.
—Bart Bull